First among them?
How do you like the hype, Canada?
Now that kids with Canadian passports are proving themselves worthy of international recognition, the reality is the stakes are higher, the spotlight a little brighter; the scrutiny increased.
Inevitably not every story or development will be positive. This is, ultimately, a good thing, as its part of the sport's coming of age north of the border. It's fantastic that Kyle Wiltjer and Kevin Pangos will take roster spots in the game against the best US-born high school seniors alongside top talents from Europe, South America and beyond, but as the sport grows and the profile along with it, not every picture will be perfect.
Secondly it makes no sense to me that Roy Rana, named as head coach of the world team would - if he could - leave off Kabongo in an act of spite as has been suggested in some quarters or to somehow prove himself loyal to Pangos.
It only makes sense that it was a decision made above his pay grade, by Nike basketball, as was explained when the team was announced.
Would Nike - who, after all, is only hosting these kinds of events to further their connections to and association with the potential sports apparel marketing icons of the future - permit Rana to use their platform to pursue such a narrow, selfish agenda at the expense of a player (Kabongo) who is unanimously recognized as the one with the greatest chance of being an impactful NBA player (and thus marketing vehicle) in the near future?
Seriously, imagine the conversation where Rana, a Canadian CIS coach, tries to tell Nike, who is in the business of selling billions of dollars of shoes, that Pangos should get the nod over the No.1 ranked point guard prospect his age on the planet because it suits Rana better.
And if that isn't explanation enough, try to figure out exactly how pissing off Kabongo further's Rana's interests?
As the coach of Canada's cadet (U17) team, he no longer coaches Pangos, but it's hard to imagine a coach as dedicated and ambitious as Rana doesn't have some aspirations to coaching the senior men's national team; even as an assistant. As this cohort of young talent matures into a group that could conceivably contend for international medals by 2016 and beyond there's no way Rana would play favourites in a manner that would alienate Kabongo (or Pangos, for that matter) and perhaps create an obstacle to being on the bench in some capacity when Canada's competing at the Olympics or World Championships with a chance to make some noise. You don't get from a high school gym to the Hoop Summit by being that shortsighted.
Meanwhile it doesn't seem so outlandish for Nike to have a high profile Canadian prospect -- Pangos -- playing at the Hoop Summit knowing that another (Kabongo) was going to get some shine at the Jordan Brand Classic and the McDonald's All-American game.
So why was Kabongo so quick to take offense? To presume politics?
Well, I'm speculating, but part of it is likely just that's what a young, driven, athlete does. There are a few people who push themselves to be great in the absence of a ready well of frustration or anger or perceived slights to draw from, but in my experience far more common are those who feel every nick and cut and shadow of disrespect and use that emotion to fuel the fire that heats up all those practice hours and adds colour to all the time spent imagining themselves doing big things.
And I say that not knowing any of the detail about Kabongo's relationship with Rana. Maybe there's a history there that would inform Kabongo's from the hip tweet suggesting his old coach had an axe to grind. Quite by coincidence I was talking with Rana about Kabongo only hours before the controversy surfaced and he had only the highest praise for Texas commit's game and potential.
Another reason - and again I'm speculating a little - is that there has long been an ingrained belief in many corners of the Canadian basketball scene that there are active, coordinated agendas at work to somehow deny one faction or another opportunities or recognition or power.
Many things over the years have been ascribed to this, and all I can say is that after nearly 15 years of poking around and listening patiently to all sides - and the sides shift all the time - I have never seen evidence of any party having the the ability to mount and sustain a consistent agenda, let alone a conspiracy.
I often wish it were so; basketball would be a lot further ahead in Canada if the capability to orchestrate anything to that degree existed, but I've yet to see it.
All that said I do think a mistake was made leaving Kabongo off that team.
There is nothing not to like about Kevin Pangos and far be it from me to put any limit on his potential or undersell his accomplishments, but Kabongo is far more widely acknowledged as the better player. His international experience is solid, having led Canada to a bronze medal at the FIBA U18 championships last summer and spot in the world championships this coming summer. With Rana coaching he helped Canada to a silver medal at the Nike Global Challenge in 2009. Next month he will be at the helm as Findlay Prep tries to win its third straight National High School Invitational, the ESPN-sponsored tournament to identify the top high school program in the United States.
It's not Pangos' fault that he was playing against a much weaker level of competition north of Toronto - and he deserves a lot of credit for growing his game at home, among friends and family. I've seen the kid play; he is fantastic. Hopefully his inclusion sends that message: that you don't have to leave Canada to be recognized by the basketball world.
But if the purpose of the Nike Hoop Summit was to gather the best players possible, leaving off Kabongo was a mistake.
In my mind Roy Rana wasn't the one who made it.