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Team France's Mickael Gelabale, second from right, drives against Team Canada's Robert Sacre, right, during the first half of exhibition FIBA basketball action in Toronto Friday, August 13, 2010. (Darren Calabrese/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Team France's Mickael Gelabale, second from right, drives against Team Canada's Robert Sacre, right, during the first half of exhibition FIBA basketball action in Toronto Friday, August 13, 2010. (Darren Calabrese/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canada pounds France in hoops exhibition Add to ...

Robert Sacre has a tattoo of Mike Tyson's face. He owns two pit bulls named Louie and Jack. He is seven feet tall and 250 pounds of muscle.

"What you see is what you get," said the 21-year-old on Friday, offering a peek at his pierced tongue.

The Canadian men's basketball team is counting on it. The rookie centre oozes the fearlessness and combativeness that head coach Leo Rautins says his team needs in order to succeed at the world championships later this month.

"Shaq could walk into a room, and he doesn't care," Rautins said.

On Friday, Canada pounded France 85-63 at the Air Canada Centre in front of a crowd of 2,200, smothering their opponents with scrappy, physical play. It was their third consecutive win in an exhibition series - the first two coming against the higher ranked China and France - and the second time in back-to-back games they have kept France to around 60 points.

Guard Andy Rautins, the 23-year-old son of the coach, led Canada with 19 points and contributed four rebounds. Jevohn Shepherd of Toronto added 12 points. Guards Ryan Bell and 22-year-old Tyler Kepkay of Vancouver shined despite the team going without their starting point guard, Jermaine Anderson.

Sacre is part of a young crop of players that Rautins says he began recruiting back in 2006, with the aim of seeing them get away from disappointments in the past. "The whole thing is, we're building for the future, I think now we're starting to compete at a really high level," Rautins said.

Part of that success is their physical defence, something he's been relying on Sacre to provide off the bench. He led the team in rebounds on Friday and contributed 8 points in 18 minutes of play.

Asked where those characteristics come from, Sacre says it's probably not rooted in his Canadian heritage.

"Maybe the craziness comes from the Louisiana side," he said.

His father, the head of the athletic department at Southern University in Baton Rouge, met his mother, a Canadian, who came to the school on a basketball scholarship.

Sacre was born and raised in the southern state, but when his parents separated, he moved to Vancouver with his mom. He led Handsworth Secondary School to a provincial AAA championship and earned most valuable player honors his junior year.

Now a junior at Gonzaga University, along with another B.C. rookie Kelly Olynyk, Sacre has spent his summers on Canada's junior development squads for the past several years.

"Everything's business on the court," Sacre says.

Otherwise, he's a bit of a goof.

Whenever he can, he heads home to Louisiana and "gets fat" ("My grandmother, I swear, is the best cook in the wooorld."). He pampers his dogs, who he claims are more famous than he is on Gonzaga's campus. ("They're the biggest pussycats you'll ever meet in your life.")

He also gets a lot of "stupid tattoos," each with a special meaning.

"They're ridiculous, but I love them," he said.

"I take my passion from [the rapper]DMX. That's why I wanted him tattooed on me. But then I wanted the aggressiveness - not the anger - but the ferociousness, and the animalness, of Mike Tyson."

Apparently, the two things combined are just what Team Canada needs.

"Look at him," said Rautins, pointing to Sacre chattering at his teammates as they shot the ball around after the morning practice.

"He just doesn't shut up. Intimidation doesn't exist to him. And you could see him at 7 o'clock in the morning, and he's like that. He just doesn't stop."

He continues: "The funny thing is, if there's one thing I'd say about our group over the past few years, and a lot of it had to do with being young, and maybe a little insecure… we were quiet."

"I've told guys - I want you to start a fight in the locker room. Throw a bottle at someone, just to get something going. Because we're too calm," he said.

"Robert changed that."

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