Canadian Head Coach Greg Francis (left) instructs Gonzaga commit Kelly Olynyk during a game at the FIBA U19 Tournament in New Zealand.
You don't have to tell Gonzaga fans that the Canadian National basketball program is growing at a tremendous rate. In the next few years, the college basketball world in America will truly see the abilities of Canadian players. Guys like Tristan Thompson and Myck Kabongo are two outstanding Canadian talents heading to Texas. Top-10 point guard Cory Joseph will also be taking his game to some lucky D1 program. Gonzaga has bought in bulk with their 2009 class, bringing in three outstanding Canadian players. Mangisto Arop, Kelly Olynyk, and Bol Kong will all lace 'em up for the Zags next year so with that being said, their is no better man to talk to than Greg Francis who played his college ball in the United States and played alongside Steve Nash at the Sydney Olympic games in 2000. Francis was hired by Canadian basketball to develop the young talent of Canada and direct them as a cohesive unit. He recently finished up coaching Manny and Kelly at the FIBA Tournament in New Zealand and is one of the most instrumental figures in the fantastic growth of Canadian youth basketball.
The Slipper Still Fits: Through NEDA and the National team, you have been working with Manny for the past two years. Where have you seen the greatest growth in his game since you started working with him?
Greg Francis: Actually Manny went from not being heavily recruited since he's from Edmonton and there was not a lot of schools here looking at him. Like I said he went from no schools and really started working really hard two years ago at NEDA and wound up putting on 20 pounds of muscle, worked on his shot and decision making to the point where he was one of the leading scorers a year ago. In terms of the world stage, I would say that he is now a top 5 wing in the world and that is a big thing at the junior level and I know that he has big aspirations on the senior level at Gonzaga.
TSSF: In following Manny the past two years, it seems that he often takes his game to the highest level against the best competition. With this said, do you think Manny has the ability to come in and contribute as a freshman at Gonzaga?
GF: Yeah I really do. He has a lot of skills and the athletic package to contribute. The big surprise for Gonzaga fans will be that he plays very hard all the time and has a very good motor. From the wing position I think that he can be a double digit guy in terms of rebounding, not to put any pressure on him. He just plays hard and guards and rebounds very well and I think that should really help him get off the bench early on at Gonzaga.
TSSF: When Manny committed to Gonzaga, he was not a name that was known very well in America. Were there other schools showing interest in Manny before his commitment, and what was it about Gonzaga that he fell in love with?
GF: For all of Canada but mainly the Western Canadian provinces, Gonzaga is seen as one of the best schools in the US, definitely in the West. Manny had a chance to try out for the junior team ahead of his class with Rob Sacre and when he signed on with Gonzaga, that was really big for kids and student-athletes around here. As soon as Gonzaga got involved with Manny it was basically done unless a school like Duke or Carolina were to come into play.
TSSF: Kelly Olynyk is an interesting combo of size and talent. What position do you think he is most suited to play at the collegiate level?
GF: I think that the good thing with Kelly is that he can play both the three or the four. He's more of a four defensively but he is skilled enough to play the three since you guys are used to having big players in that position similar to Austin Daye. The thing that is very special with him is his passing. He can see the floor very well and rebounding which he added recently he can do very well. He's not as good as Daye at this point but he has tons of talent and potential.
learn more about Kelly Olynyk, Manny Arop, and Bol Kong after the jump...
TSSF: During the FIBA tournament, Kelly seemed to struggle against some of the best team. At this point, is his lack of strength making it difficult for him to compete sometimes?
GF: Well the thing with Kelly, and he knows this, is that he is still growing. He's grown again this year and is a legit 6'11''. Once his body catches up to his skill set he will be outstanding and I'm sure that is why the coaches at Gonzaga are so excited about him. Once that happens I think it'll be perfect because he'll be a total mismatch at the three. But he could also be a four or five.
TSSF: The typical comparison we hear for Kelly is that his game is similar to Austin Daye. Do you agree with this comparison, and is there anyone else you would compare his game to?
GF: What I like about him is that he is hard to compare to. I've only seen Austin a few times and he is not the first comparison that comes to mind. Yes he has the size, but what Kelly can do is handle the ball. Guards can't even take the ball from him. He is very crafty and he isn't at his full quickness yet. I don't think big guys will be able to deal with his handles because he can get into the lane and use his body and do a lot of things. He's gonna be somebody that a lot of fans say "hmm, he's different, and I've never seen many players like him"
TSSF: One of the most discussed guys at Gonzaga is fellow Canadian Bol Kong. Obviously his citizenship issues have been discussed, but how would you describe Bol as a basketball player? What are his best skills?
GF: Bol is a great scorer. If everything works out for Bol and he is able to get to Gonzaga, he will be able to score right away. Great feel around the basket and at has a great ability at the wing spot and also works well in the post up situation. He does all this so well that I think he will be able to score immediately at that level. His defense needs work but he can score right at the top of the league right when he gets there.
TSSF: Can you compare the talent and potential of Bol and Manny? We have heard amazing things about Bol but have also heard that Manny might have more overall potential and an NBA future.
GF: Yeah, Manny may have more potential because he plays very hard at both ends of the floor. Manny also fits well as a legit two and shoots like a two and for a kid to have the kind of size that he has, I think he will wind up being a harder match up a few years down the line. He just plays so hard on both ends too that many kids at that level won't be able to match his skills and desire for the game.
TSSF: Lastly, are there any younger Canadians that you recommend Gonzaga fans keep their eyes on. We have heard names like Emerson Murry and Kevin Pangos. We've even heard people claim that Pangos is the next Steve Nash.
Probably in terms of guards it is Kevin Pangos. He has a couple years in high school to figure out if Gonzaga would take him but he can create for others and is a true point guard and is perfect for the team game that is played at Gonzaga.
I hope Kevin gets the chance to play his own way and has a lot of potential but as a point guard I hate to compare a kid to someone like a Steve Nash because he needs to keep developing even though he is already pretty well developed for his age. But there is no doubt that he definitely has the passion and flare for the game.
We'd like to thank Coach Greg Francis for this outstanding interview and for his dedicated work with the young players in Canada. I'm sure that we will all be very pleased with the quality of individuals coming to Gonzaga from north of the border.
We'd love to hear your thought about the interview. I love some of the stuff Coach Francis had to say about Kelly Olynyk and Kevin Pangos seems like a real gem and a no-brainer for Mark Few and the staff.