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Rautins, McNeill returning as national basketball coaches

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The Canadian Press
10/18/2010 7:09:05 PM
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TORONTO -- Sometimes progress isn't measured strictly through wins and losses, and that's why Leo Rautins and Allison McNeill are returning as coaches of the Canadian men's and women's basketball teams.

Rautins and McNeill were both given two-year contract extensions through 2012 as part of a larger restructuring unveiled by Canada Basketball on Monday.

After years of running with a bare-bones staff, the organization also made a couple of appointments, hiring Renato Pasquali as its technical director while naming Michele O'Keefe director of basketball operations.

Their goal will be to continue creating a cohesive basketball program that will take players through the various national teams from level to level. By accomplishing that, the belief is Rautins and McNeill will have the bottom-up development they need to make further gains internationally, after both led their teams to the world championships this year where they flamed out.

With qualifiers for the 2012 London Olympics coming up next summer for both squads, time is of the essence.

"Winning comes when everything else is done right," Rautins said at a news conference. "The last couple of years I've enjoyed my time more than ever at Canada Basketball because of the progress I'm seeing at all the other levels that allow you -- hopefully -- to become a winning program.

"It doesn't always translate into wins initially but we're getting better all the time and I think winning is going to become much more common for our program and that's our goal."

Even though the men finished 22nd and the women 12th at their world championships, 2010 still was a banner year for Canadian basketball.

The men hadn't even qualified for the world tournament since 2002, while the women were making their second straight appearance in the event.

Better results came from the under-17 teams, with the Cadet boys finishing third in their world championship and the Cadette girls ending up 11th in their event. The junior men's and women's teams each added bronze medals at the Americas under-18 championships, too.

Those players may not be much help in getting to the 2012 Olympics, but they hint at a more promising future for Canada Basketball.

"When you start to see the structure below you, you can start to get excited," said McNeill. "If you're out an island by yourself as national team coach and there's nothing happening below you, it's impossible.

"You're not going to win if there's a vacuum below."

Wayne Parrish, the body's executive director and CEO, said the key to that has been getting Canada Basketball's finances in order. With no more funding shortfalls to worry about, the country's players are getting more opportunities to play internationally and are benefiting from them.

"We've made tremendous headway," said Parrish. "We still have a ways to go."

The next few months for Rautins and McNeill will be about setting the stage for their Olympic qualifying tournaments.

The 10-team men's event is scheduled for Aug. 23-Sept. 4 in Argentina while the eight-team women's competition is tentatively set for September.

Each is facing their own challenges.

The possibility of a lockout next summer could prevent NBA players from taking part, and that would cost Canada Joel Anthony, Andy Rautins, and potentially Jamal Magloire and Matt Bonner.

So for now Rautins is developing two sets of plans, one with them, another without.

"That kills us, that's devastating," Rautins said of possibly playing without his NBAers. "You've got to prepare for it because it's going to affect everybody if something like that does happen, but it just may hit us a little harder."

McNeill, meanwhile, will be planning a spring camp and exhibition games at that time for her team because that's when the European qualifier is being held.

Those teams will have dismantled by the time Canada is preparing for its tournament, so McNeill will have to take games whenever she can get them.

That makes much of what her team accomplished at the world championships so important.

"People are talking about us, at the world championships people were preparing for us," said McNeill, the women's coach since 2002. "I think you have to get close first, you have to have structure below you first."

Maurizio Gherardini, national director of the men's team, said it was important to focus on the bigger picture, and to see the potential of an integrated Canada Basketball.

Rautins said that's the biggest change he's seen since he started the job.

"In 2005, it was like pulling teeth to get players, it was tough to find players who could compete at this level," he said. "Now you're making tougher decisions, you have integrated programs, so the development is starting from the younger guys on."

Leo Rautins (Photo: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)
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