By Martin Cleary
And then there was only one.
At the start of the FIBA World Cup men’s basketball championship, two highly skilled players with strong Ottawa connections were in the hunt with vastly different teams for a medal and/or a berth in the 2024 Paris Summer Olympic Games.
An award-winning guard for five years with the Carleton University Ravens, Phil Scrubb of Richmond, B.C., was the only U Sports product named to the Canadian team, which has a plethora of NBA talent.
Former St. Patrick Catholic High School forward Marial Shayok has traveled the world developing and refining his skills and is a starter for South Sudan, which is making its World Cup debut this year.
The Group Phase round closed on Wednesday with 16 of the 32 teams qualifying for Group Phase Round 2 (the top two in each of the eight pools). The remaining 16 teams dropped into the classification round to determine positions 17 through 32.
In the case of Ottawa’s two basketball representatives, Scrubb went north and Shayok detoured south.
For the first time in Canada Basketball history, Canada won its opening preliminary pool with a perfect 3-0 record. This is the 14th time Canada has competed in the World Cup or world championships since 1954. Its best result is a sixth-place showing in 1978 in the Philippines and 1982 in Colombia.
Canada has been in command at the World Cup as its NBA players played to their potential with Scrubb coming off the bench for significant minutes and some occasional sweet shooting.
After splitting its first two games, losing its all-important opener to Puerto Rico in overtime, South Sudan needed a major upset Wednesday over world No. 6 Serbia to advance to Round 2. If that didn’t happen, South Sudan required winless China to upset Puerto Rico, 1-1.
Neither scenario worked out in South Sudan’s favour, despite the all-around strong effort of Shayok. The Bright Stars will continue their maiden World Cup journey in the classification round.
Despite being undrafted by an NBA team in 2015, Scrubb played for the Toronto Raptors and Memphis Grizzlies during the NBA’s Summer League. Instead, Scrubb has made a successful career playing pro basketball for eight years in Europe as well as two years in the Canadian Elite Basketball League.
Scrubb, 30, helped Frankfurt Skyliners win the 2016 Europe Cup championship. At the end of the 2017-18 Basketball Bundesliga season in Germany, he was the top scorer with an 18.3-point-a-game average as well as being named the league’s best offensive player.
A committed player to the Canadian national team program since 2011, Scrubb has played a total of 67 international games – 54 for the senior men’s team and 13 for the youth teams.
Scrubb has been a steady contributor for Canada on the international scene. For the men’s senior team, he had a career average of 9.0 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists a game before the World Cup.
In five CIS championship seasons with Carleton University, he was one of the key players in Dave Smart’s enviable program. Scrubb was conference rookie of the year in 2011, a four-time first-team All-Canadian, a three-time most outstanding conference player and twice the CIS championship tournament MVP. He also was named the CIS top male athlete of the year in 2014.
Scrubb’s consistent and all-around play over the past 14 years helped earn him a berth on the Canadian team, which is led by NBA notables like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, RJ Barrett and Kelly Olynyk.
Playing in his second career World Cup (his first was in 2019), Scrubb saw varying degrees of floor time in all three games from 2:15 in Canada’s opening 95-65 win over France to 19:26 in a runaway 128-73 triumph over Lebanon to 10:21 in a 101-75 decision over Latvia.
Canada will carry over its Group G record into Round 2 and will play the top two teams from Group H. On Friday, Canada will meet Brazil. The start time is 9:30 a.m. ET.
After the first three games, Scrubb has averaged four points, 2.7 assists, 0.7 rebounds a game. He also has earned eight assists and two steals, while connecting on four of six field-goal attempts, including three of five from beyond the three-point arc. He scored six points against Lebanon and Latvia each.
While Canada is a familiar and successful team on the international scene, South Sudan is making its world debut this season. It needed to win two of its three Group Phase games to get the job done by itself.
South Sudan had an impressive start against Puerto Rico, leading 29-24 after the first quarter and winning the second quarter 23-18 for a 10-point halftime lead at 52-42. But Puerto Rico rebounded to take the third and fourth quarters with respective scores of 18-15 and 21-14.
The resulting 81-81 deadlock forced overtime and Puerto Rico carried its momentum into the extra frame for a 101-96 victory.
South Sudan won its first-ever World Cup match 89-69 over China, but impressive shooting by Serbia led to a 115-83 loss on Wednesday and left the African nation in third place at 1-2. China needed to defeat Puerto Rico for South Sudan to have a chance to finish second, but the Americas zone team won 107-89.
While Shayok started all three games for South Sudan, his playing minutes dropped with each game. He played 36:03 in the loss to Puerto Rico, 27:39 in the win over China, but only 15:38 in the critical match against Serbia.
After leaving St. Patrick’s and spending two years at Blair Academy prep school in New Jersey, Shayok played three years of NCAA basketball at the University of Virginia and his final year at Iowa State University.
Selected by Philadelphia in the second round of the 2019 NBA Draft, he played four games for the 76ers. He finished the rest of the 2019-20 season with the Delaware Blue Coats, the 76ers’ G League affiliate, and played well.
From 2020-22, he played two seasons in Turkey’s top pro league with Frutti Extra Bursapor and Fenerbahce. He was signed by the NBA’s Boston Celtics in 2022, put on waivers and reassigned to the Maine Celtics, which is Boston’s G League affiliate.
Shayok, 28, made his international debut for Canada at the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 men’s championship and returned to the national team for the 2012 FIBA U17 world championship.
Competing in his first FIBA men’s championships, Shayok has played well for his new team. Shayok has a Sudanese background as his father Makur was born in Sudan and earned a basketball scholarship to the University of Dayton.
In his first three games at the World Cup, Shayok averaged 26.4 minutes, 12 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists a game. He also contributed seven assists and one steal. He made nine of his 16 field-goal attempts for a 56.3-per-cent shooting average, including hitting five of 11 three-pointers.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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