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(YIORGOS KARAHALIS)
(YIORGOS KARAHALIS)

Canadian basketball

Kabongo frozen out of Hoop Summit Add to ...

It may be a measure of progress but Canadian basketball is so brimming with international calibre talent it's proving difficult to keep everyone happy.

Monday was a banner day as Roy Rana took another step on his climb from coaching in the basement-like gym at Toronto's Eastern Commerce high school to the elite of the field when he was named head coach for the World team at the Nike Hoop Summit, April 9th in Portland, Oregon.

It's one of the premier talent showcases for high school players in the world, and Rana - who coaches the Canadian Cadet (U17) team in addition to the rising Ryerson Rams in the CIS - will be running the bench for a team top-ranked talent from Africa, Europe, South America, Asia and Canada against the top US high school seniors in a setting that is a can't miss event for every NBA team's scouting staff.

At the same time two of Canada's premiere high school players - Kyle Wiltjer and Kevin Pangos - were named to the team, marking the second year that Canada has had two roster spots on the international squad.

All good right?

Not so fast.

Missing from the team is Myck Kabongo, the point guard at Findley Prep, the No.1-ranked high school team in the US, a finalist for the US high school player of the year and perhaps the best point guard his age in the world.

Kabongo, scheduled to join former Findley stars and fellow Canadians Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph at Texas next season, didn't hide his hard feelings at the perceived snub, which he laid at the feet of Rana via Twitter.

"This may give him a couple followers but hey everybody thank @Roy_Rana for giving me EXTRA MOTIVATION!

read one Tweet. And another: Basketball would be a whole lot better if we put aside politics !

Getting called out on Twitter by perhaps the best Canadian point guard prospect since Steve Nash can ruin a guy's day in the sun.

"I feel like [crap]" says Rana. "I had no say on the roster, but I'm getting hammered for it."

His claim that he had no say in picking the roster was backed up by Mark Bayne, the North American field rep for Nike Basketball and Toronto Raptors assistant general manager Maurizio Gherardini (also the managing director of the Canadian senior men's team).

"It is not possible that Roy picked the team, that is not how the Hoop Summit is run," said Gherardini. "The coaches have nothing to do with it. Nike has people who do this all year round."

According to Bayne he submitted four Canadians for considerations: Pangos, Wiltjer, Kabongo and Khem Birch.

"Canada only got two roster spots, the same as last year, and to get two spots two years in a row is pretty significant,:" says Bayne. "All our guys are deserving but we only had two spots and they were chosen by Nike marketing people and basketball consultants all over the world."

Bayne said Wiltjer (son of former Canadian national team member Greg Wiltjer) was a relatively easy choice because he had an exceptional year playing for Jesuit High School in Portland and is somewhat of a local hero there; and the decision between Pangos and Kabongo was tipped in part because Kabongo will be playing in the Jordan Brand Classic game the following week and Pangos' reputation as more of a traditional European-style point guard, compared with Kabongo, whose unparalled penetration skills have many basketball people projecting him as a significant NBA prospect as soon as 2012.

"They felt that Kevin would be better at getting an international roster organized in a short perid of time," said Bayne. "You know when you exclude anyone there is a chance for controversy but at the end of the day we're happy with our selection."

There is a perception some parts of the basketball community that - as Kabongo himself indicated - politics may have had something to do with the selections.

The choice of Pangos over Kabongo is Rana trying to be loyal to Pangos -- who played for Rana on the U17 national team last summer -- and perhaps even a little payback given that Kabongo left Eastern Commerce (where Rana was then coaching) for St. Benedict's Prep in New Jersey after Grade 9.

And if that's a little too conspiratorial - Kabongo since played for Rana at the Nike Global challenge in 2009 - at the very least the decision to spread the post-season honours between the two star guards smacks some of being a little too cozy.

"You don't do that, you don't spread the love around," said Ro Russell, who coached Kabongo on his Grassroots AAU club team. "You give it to the guys whose most deserving. Myck Kabongo is the best high school player in the world not from the United States; and you don't have the US saying Austin Rivers won't be playing in the Hoop Summit because he's already going to be playing in the McDonald's All-American game and the Jordan Classic. Kabongo was the best player on the best high school team in the United States, playing against All-Americans almost everygame, Pangos was playing in York region."

The reality may be that Pangos - who did lead Canada to a bronze medal at the Cadet World Championships last summer, it should be noted - and Kabongo should be on the team and with the roster not yet finalized may yet be teammates.

But regardless, as the Canadian talent pool runs deeper, the plots get a little thicker.

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