By Alfredo R. Berrios
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Puerto Rico (4-0) concluded the Qualifying Round of the FIBA Americas Championship as the leader of Group A, followed by Uruguay (3-1), Canada (2-2), and Mexico (1-3). Brazil (4-0) leads Group B, followed by Argentina (2-2), Dominican Republic (2-2) and Panama (1-3).
Argentina moving up to the second place of Group B was one of four possible scenarios in play after the Argentineans defeated Panama on Saturday. With their victory over Dominican Republic on Sunday, Argentina eliminated Venezuela. Argentina had lost to Venezuela last Wednesday.
In their best performance so far, Argentina defeated the Dominican Republic 89-87 in overtime in the final day of Round 1.
Luis Scola finished with 30 points, Paolo Quinteros scored 14 and Pablo Prigioni 11 plus 5 assists for Argentina. Al Horford led the Dominicans with 24 points and 11 rebounds, Francisco Garcia scored 20, Luis Flores 16 and Jack Michael Martinez added 13. Charlie Villanueva had a bad day with 9 points by shooting 3-13 from the field but he helped the Dominican side with 10 rebounds.
Also on Sunday, Brazil defeated Panama 84-64. Leandro Barbosa scored 17 points, Marcelo Huertas and Anderson Varejao added 15 each. Danilo Pinnock netted 24 points for Panama while Leonardo Pomare finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
All teams are off Monday although light workouts will take place in preparation for the quarterfinals. Teams will be playing four games each in the upcoming phase. The quarterfinals begin on Tuesday and will be played until Friday. The top 4 teams reach the 2010 FIBA World Championship.
FINAL STANDINGS (end of Qualifying Round)
Team - W | L
Puerto Rico - 4 | 0
Uruguay - 3 | 1
Canada - 2 | 2
Mexico - 1 | 3
Brazil - 4 | 0
Argentina - 2 | 2
Dominican Rep. - 2 | 2
Panama - 1 | 3
Accusations of corruption and problems with some of the top players like Eduardo Najera of the New Jersey Nets have plagued basketball in Mexico. However, coach Eduardo Guerrero says some luster will be restored. The goal is to take the program back to the successful level that it had in the 1970s and 1980s.
"The solution is developing [for each problem]. All the legal aspects that are of concern are in their last stances," Guerrero said before the conclusion of Round 1 of the FIBA Americas championship. "What's important now is that we have FIBA's support, which is important because we want to host and develop big tournaments."
Guerrero said that under FIBA's watchful eye, various 18-under tournaments for boys and girls have been held. Youngsters are now drawing an interest toward basketball.
"We have five international tournaments for youngsters under 16 and 17, not only for boys but also for girls and that's how we are developing talent for our national team," Guerrero explained.
As a former member of the Mexican national team, Guerrero admits a level of frustration due to Najera's absence. The forward had agreed to purchase his own insurance. However, and even with the insurance policy in place, the Nets didn't allow him to play in Puerto Rico.
"[Najera] was training with us during the COCABA tournament and was ready to join us. The only thing that was in the way was the insurance but then the Nets didn't allow him to do so."
Najera is not the only NBA player who wasn't allowed to play. He joined Mavericks guard Juan Jose Barea of Puerto Rico along with Argentineans Manu Ginobili of the Spurs and Fabricio Oberto of the Wizards.
On the other hand, Guerrero applauded Dominicans Charlie Villanueva, Francisco Garcia and Al Horford and Argentina's Luis Scola for playing with their national teams.
"It's very strange that you have other NBA players playing with pride for their countries," Guerrero said. "That's precisely what other NBA players need to feel, that their country's basketball team is very significant."
Guerrero feels enthusiastic due to a change in his players' attitudes. He hopes that it'll be passed forward to those who did not make the team.
"In terms of the national team in this tournament, we've recaptured the pride and spirit needed to represent Mexican basketball," said Guerrero. "We hope that those who didn't make it get that same feeling [of commitment]."
He described basketball in the Americas region as the strongest because of the quality of teams fighting for a spot in the Olympics and World Championships every two years.
"I think FIBA Americas' basketball is more competitive because it's harder to qualify," Guerrero said. "Just look at the United States, Argentina, Brazil [and] Puerto Rico, they're all great teams. We wait for one of them to be the champion so we have one more team [from the region] in the Olympics."
Mexico lost 54-49 to Uruguay in the final day of the first round of the FIBA Americas Championship.
Puerto Rico earned praise for its running of the FIBA Americas Championship. Now the island is working on submitting a bid for the 2018 FIBA World Championship.
Puerto Rico aspires to also host the 2011 World Youth tournament, counting on it as the next step to hosting the World Championship. Puerto Rico also hosted the World Championship in 1974.
"It is my understanding that Puerto Rico is hours away from submitting a letter [to request] the World Championship in 2018," said Salvador Vilella, president of the organizing committee in San Juan. "We'll be a great option for 2018."
Puerto Rico became the host of the 2009 FIBA Americas Championship in place of Mexico.
According to Vilella, the effort put forth by local government and private sectors opened the way to cover infrastructure expenses and operations. The remaining balance was covered by ticket sales.
"What's difficult is that this historic moment in Puerto Rico took place because the government and private businesses came together to make this happen.
"They had something to achieve," said Vilella, who in the past has been in charge of organizing FIBA Americas Championship events in the island. "The goal was for the advertisers to cover operational costs. We came up a little bit short in the end but the tickets [admission] is giving us indications that they will be picking up the remaining balance, even giving us some profit."
Considering the short-term preparation, the businessman at times had concens that the event might not be a success.
"A lot of people doubted that it could be done," Vilella recalled. "I am not going to doubt that there were some long nights when I got home and said, 'This is looking hard.'"
Puerto Rico ended the first round undefeated after winning over Canada 90-70 in front of over 9,000 fans at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum.
Carlos Arroyo and Larry Ayuso led Puerto Rico with 16 points each. Andy Rautins scored 18 for Canada. Joel Anthony grabbed 10 rebounds.
Playing at the FIBA Americas Championship has been a special experience for
Dominican Francisco Garcia of the Sacramento Kings.
Two of his teammates are NBA rivals, but the chemistry and camaraderie that has been developed during initial team practices and the first round of the tournament is special. Having to play with Charlie Villanueva of the Detroit Pistons and Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks is not an issue. Together, they've found a common goal: help the Dominican team qualify for the World Championship in Turkey.
"We always talk on the court. There are a lot of times when one sees something that another can't. We're always communicating," the Sacramento Kings forward said. "It's been a good experience."
Garcia has praised the work done by coach Julio Toro, who has been working with the team during the last 45 days, and compared his communications skills to those of his coach at the University of Louisville.
"[Toro] has been an excellent coach, particularly to me. I always have great communications with him. He gets along well with his players," Garcia said.
"[Toro] reminds me of Rick Pitino a lot, my college coach."
Just like his teammates, Garcia hopes the Dominican Republic earns one of four spots for the 2010 World Championship.
"I'm proudly representing my country while being able to help the Dominican Republic reach the World Championship," he said.