Evan Daum, Canada West Communications
EDMONTON – Fresh off his role in one of Canadian basketball's biggest wins, Grant Shephard is back in British Columbia still basking in the glow of his U19 world title.
The 6-foot-10 forward out of Kelowna, who committed to UBC earlier this year and begins his first Canada West campaign this fall, helped Canada cruise to a 79-60 win over Italy in the final, marking the country's first FIBA championship at any level.
While the Canucks downed Italy to top the podium on Sunday, it was Canada's 99-87 win over the powerhouse Americans a day earlier in the semis that paved the way to gold.
"I couldn't believe it really. After all these years, we finally beat the US. I think we got what we deserved," Shephard, who posted 12 points and five rebounds in both the quarter-final against France and the semifinal vs. the USA, said Tuesday.
"A lot of us were thinking that they'd somehow punch back and make a run, or something, because that's what USA teams are known to do, but I think we were just really resilient and never let up."
And what about the digital response to downing the tournament favourites?
"My phone was blowing up the entire night," Shephard said of the response after the win over the US. "We had a game the next day, so everybody just had to hand their phones in, shut 'em off, and get rested."
Beating the US in the semis, coupled with Canada's ability to avoid a letdown in the final against Italy represents the latest sign of Canadian basketball's on going rise – something not lost on Shephard, or his teammates.
"It definitely puts a statement out there that Canada basketball is on the rise. We're not a team to be laughed at and we're getting very serious about basketball and getting better every year," Shephard explained.
Canada's historic tournament victory hasn't been overlooked by sports fans back home, who have embraced the victory as a major milestone for a sport that has made significant strides over the last decade in the great white north.
"That was amazing to be welcomed home like that. It just showed how much it meant to everybody that we came back home with gold. It was just a huge celebration," Shephard said of the welcome the team received at Toronto's Pearson Airport Monday. "Everybodies families were there. There were media there and it just meant a lot to everybody."
Now, with a U19 title to his name, Shephard's focus is on carrying the momentum of an unforgettable summer into his first year of university, juggling basketball and studying science.
Shephard heads into his freshmen season at UBC with high expectations after opting to play his university ball north of the border, turning down several opportunities in the US to return closer to home after a year of prep school at Montverde Academy in Florida.
But regardless of where he hits the hardcourt, the goal remains the same.
"I think the biggest thing to staying grounded is to stay focussed. I still have the same goal, which is to get to the championship. Whether it be a world championship, or a national championship, it's still the same – you have to stay focussed and humble."
With files from Wilson Wong - UBC.