SAN JUAN (William Rosario's Somewhere in the Americas) -It was Sunday, September 8th. The semifinals for the 2013 FIBA Americas Championship were set along with the four qualifying teams for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. That same night another tournament began, one that will not be settled on the court.
Last week, FIBA officially announced the hopefuls for the four Wild Card spots to the World Cup and it has been the talk of the international basketball scene here in the Americas. Every person I have come in contact with seems to have the necessary expertise to make the decision, or at least they voice it with that authority. So here, I present you the unofficial opinion polls of the Americas basketball "intelligentsia".
Everybody seems to have China as a lock in terms of ending up with one of the four spots. Not one person has gone against that opinion, and it is understandable for the obvious reasons. Then, it begins to fluctuate between Europe taking the three remaining spots, with Turkey, Russia, Greece, Italy, Germany in a tough one, and Americas being given one spot with Brazil as the leading candidate for the "always being there and big market" pretense.
Well, I certainly hope that the Americas are given a spot, and that's as much as I'm going to say about the political side of it.
But what I'm going to elaborate on, because I strongly disagree, is with the unanimous pick of Brazil as Americas selection if we were to have an additional representative. To me, both Venezuela and Canada have excellent arguments to be made.
Yes, Brazil is the traditional pick. They have always been there and they are a 200 million population market, but are coming off their worst finish in the history of the FIBA Americas Championship (ninth place out of ten) with a team that was coming apart at the seams in Caracas.
Of course you can’t ignore the fact that they did not have Tiago Splitter, Nene Hilario, Anderson Varejao, Leandro Barbosa, Vitor Faverani, Lucas "Bebe" Nogueira or even Marquinhos De Souza on their squad. That’s a whole new team. A great whole new team that if they can get, can compete with anybody, but it hasn’t been easy getting those players to commit to playing with the national team. If they are a go, with Marcelinho Huertas at the helm, Brazil is definitely deserving of a spot in the World Cup.
Venezuela would be a great pick. In the last two years they have become a major player in terms of organizing big championship tournaments and they have done it with great success. They have organized both the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) and the FIBA Americas Championship, and have already been confirmed to be hosting next years’ South American Championship. There are also rumblings of them wanting a bid for a FIBA Youth World Championship. They are definitely in the mix.
Now, add to that the fact that in the court they failed to qualify (finishing in fifth place) after losing an overtime thriller to Puerto Rico by just one point, 86-85. All of this with two key pieces not suiting up for the tournament. Their star, Greivis Vásquez could not play in the tournament due to injury. This is a guy that last year averaged 14 points and 9 assists per game in the NBA, 25 points per game in the FIBA OQT and 20 points per game in the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship. Also out was Gregory Echenique, a productive bigman currently playing pro ball in Germany.
Canada is the interesting pick. The kind of pick you make when you think of the possibilities. In recent years, their national team program has become structurally sound up there with the likes of USA Basketball. What they have been doing is that great, in every level, at both sides of the coin, both in Men and Women’s basketball.
On the Senior men’s side, in 2012 they hired Steve Nash as their General Manager along with legendary Canadian basketball man Jay Triano. The first thing they did was organize a Training Camp to find out what they had in their talent bank and well, they had talent alright.
The camp was attended by NBA players Tristan Thompson, Andrew Nicholson, Cory Joseph and veteran Joel Anthony, along with the NBA’s current #1 draft pick, Anthony Bennett, Lottery Pick Kelly Olynik and the most talked about prospect in all of basketball in Andrew Wiggins. That is a serious list, and when you consider they have one of the future superstars of the game in everybody’s estimation, this is a must watch team down the road.
It is true that they also had a disappointing FIBA Americas Championship (finishing sixth place), but they were right there with chances to qualify in the last day of competition. Also, who says down the road does not mean next summer? They are right there and even if they are an underdog for this Wild Card spot, it sure is exciting to think if the possibilities.
So who's going to get it? Who’s going to Spain?
I don't know. I don't even know if the Americas are going to get one of the spots, and the decision doesn't concern me. But what I do know is that the Americas are in a beautiful position facing 2017 and the new calendar. Right now, four years before, we have eight talented teams willing to do everything to be part of the FIBA Basketball World Cup stage.
That's what we have to take out of this political song and dance. The Wild Cards will disappear after this year, but the future seems to indicate that National Federations are growing stronger every day. And if that's the point, as everybody has expressed, of all the changes being instituted in the next four years to the international game, then, we are on the right path.
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