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Weir coaches Canadian U19 team into semifinal showdown vs. Team U.S.A.

Team Canada Junior National Team coach Paul Weir, left, instructs players during his team’s game against Puerto Rico on Wednesday, July 7, 2021, in Daugavpils, Latvia, in the FIBA U19 World Cup. Weir, the former UNM Lobos and NMSU Aggies head coach, and his Canadian team went 3-0 in group play and won their first two bracket games to advance to play Team USA in Saturday’s semifinal round in Latvia. (Courtesy

In 2017, just months after being hired on as the head coach of the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team, Paul Weir was invited to be on the staff of the Canadian Junior National Team for the FIBA U19 World Cup in Egypt.

The team, led by current New York Knicks star RJ Barrett, won gold — the first medal in the team’s history.

Four years later, and after Weir’s run as head coach of the Lobos came to an end with his firing in February, the 42-year-old is now the head coach of the team and has led his native Canada into a semifinal showdown Saturday (9 a.m., espn+ streaming) in Riga, Latvia with Team USA in the 2021 FIBA U19 World Cup.

Weir’s squad, led by several Division I players for teams like Purdue, Creighton and Michigan, went 3-0 in group play and won its first two bracket games over Puerto Rico and Spain to set up the daunting Team USA showdown.

“This has been so much fun,” Weir told the Journal in a text message interview this week from Latvia. “Not only the players I’m lucky enough to coach, but the FIBA game is a blast. It’s so much faster than the college game with less timeouts, less fouls being called, shorter clock. Makes a fun, exciting product to be involved in.

“Competing in a World Cup is such a privilege. Similar to coaching the Lobos or the (New Mexico State) Aggies in New Mexico but now you’re coaching for an entire nation. I’m blessed beyond words they asked me to take on this responsibility. Not everyone gets a chance to give back in this way and I’m just so humbled to be doing this right now.”

After Canada’s gold in 2017 with Weir on the staff, he opted out of participating in 2019 to focus on the Lobos. Team Canada didn’t fair nearly as well, but it hasn’t diminished expectations for the new bunch.

“We’ve only ever medaled once in this competition back in 2017,” Weir said. “Last time we finished 8th. So (we’re) just trying to take this team as far as we possibly can and hopefully that’s all the way.”

Friday, entering the fourth quarter down by one point, Canada pulled out a tough 81-77 win over Spain behind 25 points and five steals from Michigan Wolverine forward Caleb Houston and 24 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks from 7-foot-4 Purdue Boilermakers center Zach Edey.

Tuesday, in the opening round of bracket play, Canada enjoyed a 86-56 win over Puerto Rico, a team that beat Canada in the 2019 U19 World Cup.

Team USA, led by consensus No. 1 Class of 2021 national recruit and incoming Gonzaga Bulldog Chet Holmgren, a 7-foot-1 point-forward, beat Senegal, 88-58, in Friday’s quarterfinals to advance to the semifinals.

Canada beat that same Senegal team 85-56 last week in group play.

Team USA’s coaching staff consists of TCU head coach Jaimie Dixon and assistants Jerod Haase, Stanford’s head coach, and James Jones, head coach at Yale.

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