SAN JUAN (William Rosario's Somewhere in the Americas) - The 2014 Centrobasket Championship tips off on 1 August and, like its South American counterpart, it is full of intriguing storylines to look forward to next week in Nayarit, Mexico.
This competition had its first staging back in 1965 with hosts Mexico taking top honors. Puerto Rico are the elite and consistent team in the history of the competition with a total of 22 medals (10 gold), with Cuba and Panama on 13 medals (four golds) each. Mexico has won the event twice, hoisting the trophy for the second time in 1975.
Mexico are without a doubt the biggest and most intriguing storyline of the competition. First off, this will be their first international championship since winning last year's FIBA Americas Championship in Caracas, Venezuela and it will be interesting to see how this affects their demeanor towards this lesser quality level of competition, especially at home.
They are also a team going to their first FIBA Basketball World Cup in 40 years, which means they are in dire need of international scrimmages and this provides them a great opportunity in a tournament that promises to be very competitive.
And the third one is, of course, Gustavo Ayon. After almost being ruled out of the Spain 2014 team, he has recovered in time to even play the Centrobasket and that gives Sergio Valdeolmillos, the team's head coach, a fair chance of going to Gran Canaria with his full roster and no excuses in terms of their preparations. They will be at full power once August comes along.
The other storyline is Puerto Rico and their configuration entering the Centrobasket. They seem to be mixing approaches when it comes to the roster that has been announced for the Championship.
Normally, a team uses this event to do one of two things: 1. use the championship to take their A team and give them more preparation looking forward to the big stage, or 2. take their B team and give them international experience for the future. Puerto Rico seems to be in the middle on this one.
When they announced their 18-man preliminary squad for the championship, at first glance it looked like a B team looking to get experience, but when you go deeper, you see names like Jose Juan Barea, John Holland, Renaldo Balkman, Luis Villafane that are A team cemented guys (Villafane may be a reach but still) and are not in any rush to add mileage to their legs on the international stage.
In any case, this decision reveals the true storyline of the 2014 Centrobasket Championship which is that we have on our hands a very competitive tournament that doesn't have any guarantees for the traditional winners.
This competition ultimately is a qualifier to the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship and out of the four spots that will be awarded in Nayarit, all of them seem up for grabs prior to tip-off.
Excluding Costa Rica and El Salvador, which are clearly weaker teams, there are eight teams with possibilities of advancing to the continental championship next year. Any team capable of mounting a great five-day run can easily end up with a medal and a chance to give continuity to their national team program by playing again next year.
So this means that in Central America we have eight teams that can be competitive with anybody in the continent. To those, we can add Argentina, Brazil, Chile or Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela from the South and Canada and the USA from the south.
As we look forward to the 2017 new competition system, those are the top 16 teams from the Americas. It will definitely be an organizational challenge for sure, but to already have the possibility of having 16 competitive means there are brighter days to come.
The Centrobasket Championship will serve as proof that the Americas has a deep pool, that we can look forward to the future and be happy with the fact that at the very least, we will have good games and that is what truly matters.
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