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Canada's team of the year

It was the perfect mix of talent and togetherness. And over one remarkable week last summer in Cairo, 12 teenagers did something no Canadian team had ever accomplished — claim gold on basketball's world stage.

Canada captured the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup title in July, the country's first gold in the sport at any world or Olympic event, stunning the mighty Americans in the semifinals before steamrolling Italy in the final.

They were honoured for their historic performance by being voted The Canadian Press Team of the Year for 2017.

"From one to 12, what an incredible group of young kids we had, who did an incredible job of representing our country," said coach Roy Rana.

The team picked up 17 of 63 votes (27 per cent) in an online poll of broadcasters and sports editors from across the country. MLS Cup champions Toronto FC and Brad Gushue's world champion curling rink tied for second with 10 votes (16 per cent).

No one could have predicted how the young basketball team's dramatic week would unfold, or penned a better storybook ending.

"Came out of nowhere," said Chris Bury, program director for CJAD 800 in Montreal. "Surprised and inspired the nation."

"Unexpected and unprecedented. Beating the U.S. is the cherry on top," wrote Mackenzie Liddell, Yahoo Canada Sports editor.

Set against a tense backdrop of security concerns in Cairo — sequestered in their hotel, the Canadians ventured out just once, on their day off, in a memorable visit to the Pyramids — the Canadians would overpower Mali and Japan by a combined 191-117 in the preliminary round.

But they dropped a 78-73 decision to Spain that slotted them second in Group C of the 16-country tournament, setting them on a collision course with the top-ranked Americans.

But the Canadians defeated France 73-67 in the quarter-finals. And then, in what will go down as a landmark moment in Canada's basketball history, the team upset an American squad coached by Kentucky's John Calipari 99-87 in the semis.

"After that game we knew we were going to win," said team captain Lindell Wigginton. "We felt like nobody could stop us after that."

"To beat a really good France team, and then have this magical run where we upset the U.S. and won the world championship, was incredible, just absolutely magical," Rana said. "It was just kind of the power of sport when teams start to gel at the right time and come together, and make sacrifices for each other. It was very, very special."

No basketball team had ever won the Canadian Press award in its 51-year history.

"It says that a group of young kids can capture the imagination of a country and do something that's never been done — at any level in our history," said Rana, also head coach of the Ryerson Rams. "And it also speaks about the growth and the popularity of basketball, that it is important to us as a country, and our fans and our general population care. That in itself is pretty special."



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