PUERTO RICO (PUR)
11th appearance (6 consecutive) Team videoRebuilding around Arroyo Many veterans are gone and national team coach Julio Toro has started to rebuild the team around his star: Carlos Arroyo. Like two years ago at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Puerto Rico will meet the United States in the preliminary round. And the entire country is waiting for it.
Only one hour after the beginning of the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan, the entire island of Puerto Rico will be in front of their television to support their national team against the United States. The confrontations between the two nations have always had a political taste. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States, and the nature of the political relationships between the two countries has been the subject of numerous debates in the island. But U.S. basketball has influenced Puerto Rico a lot. Several famous coaches came to the island like Red Holzman, Jack Ramsay or more recently Bernie Bickerstaff to offer their science of basketball.
At the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Puerto Rico brought down the colossus, defeating a Team USA composed of NBA players such as Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson. Thanks to a 28-7 run in the second quarter, the Puerto Ricans claimed a historic 92-73 victory. At the end of the game, Carlos Arroyo, who scored 24 points and dished 7 assists, held up proudly his jersey, showing the name of his country to the crowd. Eddie Casiano and Elias "Larry" Ayuso added 18 and 15 points, respectively. Thanks to this success, Puerto Rico reached the quarterfinals but was eventually eliminated by Italy and finished 6th. This wasn't the best performance of the Puerto Ricans on the international stage.
Their best results came in the late 1950s and early 1960s - 5th at the 1959 World Championship, 4th at the 1964 Olympic Games and 6th at the 1963 World Championship. Those performances were led by Juan "Pachín" Vicéns, who was then one of the best players in the world. Nearly 40 years later, Puerto Rico created a huge surprise at the 1990 World Championship in Argentina. They won their first seven games, including a 82-75 win against Yugoslavia - the future world champion - and a 81-79 victory against the United States in the Final Round. But an 82-98 defeat to USSR prevented them from playing the final. In the game for the third place, Puerto Rico met the United States again. The U.S. team was composed of talented collegiate players such as Alonzo Mourning, Christian Laettner and Kenny Anderson. The Puerto Rican leaders were José "Piculin" Ortiz, who was then playing in the NBA, and forward Jerome Mincy. Puerto Rico was leading 96-88 with 1:28 remaining. But the United States tied the games with two free throws with no time on the clock. But during the overtime, the United States dominated and won 107-105, depriving Puerto Rico of their first medal in an international competition. Puerto Rico eventually got its revenge 14 years later in Athens.
"Piculin" Ortiz was the only active player remaining from the team that claimed the 4th place at the 1990 World Championship. He had retired from the national team in 2002 along with Jerome Mincy. But Ortiz changed his mind and competed at the 2004 Olympic Games. He is a legend in Puerto Rico but played only the first three games of the season with the reigning BSN champion, Capitanes de Arecibo. He will probably not be in Japan this summer. National team coach Julio Toro will also miss Eddie Casiano. At 34, the long distance shooter retired from the national team.
Puerto Rico entered a transitional phase last summer. Carlos Arroyo and Daniel Santiago decided to take some rest, and Toro had to build a young team around veterans Christian Dalmau and Larry Ayuso to compete for the 2005 FIBA Americas Championship. Puerto Rico finished at a deceptive 7th place and failed to qualify directly for the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan. But the FIBA granted them a wild card, and Puerto Rico was given the chance to travel to Asia.
Carlos Arroyo will be the uncontested leader of the team. He will be eager to shine as he made a deceptive NBA season as a reserve point guard. Bobby Joe Hatton will provide experience and versatility at both guard spots, while Larry Ayuso is one of the most feared long distance shooters in the world. Juan José Barea and Filiberto Rivera represent the future at point guard, and one of them - or even both - may travel to Japan. Rick Apodaca has also revealed himself as a consistent offensive option. Previously known for his defence, he posted 18.4 points per game at the 2005 FIBA Americas Championship and was then named MVP of the Polish League.
On the wings, Toro can count on several athletic and promising players. Antonio Latimer is the most experienced of them and his complete game makes him a valuable player. Gabriel Colon and Angel Figueroa had the opportunity to play at the 2005 FIBA Americas Championship. Figueroa showed this season in the BSN that he deserves a spot in the national team. "Bimbo" Carmona decided to attempt to gain a spot in the NBA last summer, and that's why he didn't make the team for the 2005 FIBA Americas Championship. He is a great defensive player who has the potential to play one day in the NBA. If he is available, he may have his chance to make the team and travel to Japan as well.
Daniel Santiago, Sharif Fajardo and 2.20 meter-tall Peter John Ramos form a very solid and complete frontcourt even though none of them are truly dominant. P.J. Ramos, 21, has not developed all the potential he has, and it will take some time.
Puerto Rico will have to leave two teams behind them to qualify for the eighth-finals and it will not be an easy task. But underestimating this team would be a huge mistake by their opponents - the United States, Italy, Slovenia, Senegal and China - as Puerto Rico has shown in the past that they can beat anybody.