David Wagner has earned plenty of medals in his 17 years.
By far, his newest one is his favourite.
Wagner, a 6-foot-9 forward for the South Kamloops Titans, returned home Tuesday from Hamburg, Germany, where he helped the Canadian cadet men’s basketball team to a bronze medal in the world under-17 championship. Canada beat Lithuania 83-81 in the third-place game.
The bronze medal was only the second medal that a Canadian men’s team has won at a world championship — in 2005, the national under-21 team finished third at worlds in Argentina.
“It’s a standard medal, it has world under-17 championships, Hamburg 2010 written on it — it’s definitely my favourite,” says Wagner, who will be entering Grade 12 at South Kam in the fall. “It’s only the second or third time Canada has medaled at a world championship.”
After all the work he put into winning it, you’d better believe this medal is his favourite.
He started his journey toward the world championship in June 2009, when he tried out for — and made — the national under-16 men’s team. That team took part in the FIBA Americas championship in Mendoza, Argentina, later that month and, by finishing third, qualified for this year’s world championship.
His work didn’t end there. After playing with the Titans over the winter, he had to re-earn his position on the national under-17 men’s team. Only six players off last year’s national squad — Wagner, Kevin Pangos, Duane Notice, Negus Webster-Chan, Anthony Bennett and Joseph De Ciman — were asked back this year.
“Only half the team was on the team last year,” Wagner said. “There were some really good players who didn’t make it, which is too bad. But we went in there looking to win.”
After the team was selected, it spent three weeks training in Toronto, before heading to Hamburg. There was no break once it got to Germany — the boys played eight games in 10 days.
“It was hard,” says Wagner. “It really tested me, eight games in 10 days. It was all business.”
Before beating Lithuania 83-81 in the bronze medal game Sunday, Canada had enjoyed only two days off. The Canadian team stayed Sunday night in Germany, before flying into Toronto on Monday and dispersing on Tuesday.
“The last night, we had some fun,” Wagner says of the team’s recreation time in Germany. “We saw a little bit of Hamburg, but mostly the focus was on basketball.”
During the tournament, Wagner averaged 3.9 points and 4.9 rebounds while playing more than 20 minutes a game.
Canada’s strong play was a bit of a surprise, considering it had finished third at the FIBA Americas championship a year earlier, behind the U.S. and Argentina. The Americans again were strong, going undefeated to win the world title, while Argentina didn’t make the quarterfinals.
“We were more of a team this year,” says Wagner, of his side’s improvement. “No one cared about their egos — we went in hoping to win.”
Winning the championship would have been a pretty tall task, especially considering the strength of the Americans, who beat Poland 111-80 in Sunday’s final. In a semifinal, Canada lost 103-83 to its southern neighbours, in what was one of only two games the Americans won by 20 points or fewer.
“They’re all really talented and athletic,” Wagner says, “but we gave them their best game of the tournament, I think. We really stood up well against them.”
The bronze-medal match went in Canada’s favour — it trailed by as many as five points late in the fourth quarter, and by four in the last 44 seconds. Wagner was on the floor for the final minute.
“That was probably the most exciting game I’ve ever been a part of,” says Wagner, who has played in provincial semifinals and various other tournament finals while with provincial teams. “We were down by five or six, but we came back.
“A lot of guys had big performances, like Olivier Hanlan,” who had five straight points after Canada got behind 81-77 late.
While that will be the lasting memory from the tournament, Wagner also will remember beating Australia 76-68 on July 3 thanks to a 25-11 run in the fourth quarter.
Wagner was born in High River, Alta., but moved to Australia when he was five, only to relocate to Kamloops before he entered Grade 9 in 2007. He recognized some former friends and foes.
“I knew five of them from playing against them in tournaments and stuff,” Wagner says. “It was weird seeing them again . . . but I treated it like any other game.”
One of the Australian players, point guard Mitch Norton, was a very familiar face. Norton plays at Townsville, Queensland, which is the same state in which Wagner played.
“Their point guard, he was kind of like my archrival,” Wagner says. “It always seemed as though our teams were meeting in tournament finals.”
Wagner’s summer of basketball is far from over — he’s getting ready to head to Las Vegas for a tournament with the provincial under-17 team, before the same team travels to Winnipeg for the national championship.
“I’ll try to get another medal there,” he says.
Once that’s finished, some time in early August, he plans to practise for a month ahead of his senior season.
“(Worlds) was hard, but it definitely made me a better player,” Wagner says. “Just the calibre of player there was unreal.”