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An oldie, but a goodie
SAN JUAN (William Rosario's Somewhere in the Americas) - The 2014 South American Championship tips off on Thursday in Isla Margarita, Venezuela and I think there is something to be underlined prior to the beginning of the most historic basketball competition in the world.
I know that sounds like a hyperbolic phrase, but is it not. The South American Championship had its first edition in 1930 (two years before FIBA was even founded) and has been played uninterrupted ever since, with this being the 47th edition of the tournament.
The first edition was played in Montevideo, Uruguay, with the host winning the gold medal against Argentina. Brazil came in third. And those three have basically been the key players in the consequent 84 years of the championship.
Brazil is the country with the most medals (18), followed by Argentina (13) and Uruguay (11). The next one is Venezuela, this year's hosts, with only one gold, won in 1991, by the team that would eventually be called the "heroes of '92", the best Venezuelan basketball team of all time (but that's material for another piece… another day).
Nowadays, "el Sudamericano", and ever since the inception of the FIBA Americas Championship in 1989, is seen basically as a qualifier to the continental tournament, but it's still a very interesting platform and analytical entity for whatever is going on in the basketball landscape of South America.
This year there are a couple of storylines worth pointing out prior to tip-off, like watching over Argentina's B team to see who will eventually move up to accompany the Golden Generation in Spain, or seeing how Brazil recover from the worst performance in their international basketball history (this one being their first showing since that now infamous trainwreck), or how Uruguay's younger generation (now that Leandro Garcia Morales and Esteban Batista won't be there) will look on this stage, or maybe the fact that we are getting closer now to 2017 and this tournament can give a sense of where teams like Ecuador and Chile stand within that new competition format and if they will be ultimately competitive in it.
All of those are fairly interesting things to watch this week, but the most important is without a doubt seeing how Venezuela carry themselves now that they have officially become elite players in the last couple of years. Will they dominate? Or will they play down to their competition?
It all started in 2011 when those of us that were privileged enough to be in Mar del Plata for the FIBA Americas Championship saw a young, exciting team come out of nowhere right into the forefront to fall just short of qualifying to the 2012 London Olympics. That team was Venezuela led by a breakout performer named Greivis Vasquez that quickly became the player to watch in Argentina.
The taste that that Venezuelan left the continent in that championship led to the country bidding and eventually getting the opportunity to host the 2012 World Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Even though Venezuela once again fell short of making it to London, the event was huge success and the country proved to be a worthy organizer for big basketball championships.
So what happened? In 2013 they got the opportunity to once again host the big one, this time the FIBA Americas Championship and it was a spectacle.
Venezuela, this time an overwhelming underdog after losing Vasquez to an injury, put on an amazing performance that got them within seconds of making it to this year's FIBA Basketball World Cup.
They have been so close. Ridiculously close. But in that painful process, they have solidified themselves as an elite team in the Americas and the South American Championship is where you put your foot down and prove it. This is the stage where you dominate inferior teams and win the close battles.
The important thing is that now, one year removed from the 2013 FIBA Americas Championship heartbreak, they have accepted the challenge of welcoming the world's most traditional championship.
So this means in three years they will have organized three of the most important international championships in the world, with great success. And they have bid to once again host the FIBA Americas Championship next year. That is commitment folks. There is no secret that Venezuela is going through a political crisis at the moment, so to be taking on sporting events of this magnitude can only serve as an example to the world of the focus, courage and love, the true love that the country has to the game.
They deserve all the success that comes to them inside the court. Yes, they have fallen short recently, but this championship will be a great first step forward. Once again, our old friend the South American championship serves as the most perfect platform.
Here's to you Venezuela, here's to adding memories to an oldie but a goodie.
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