2009 FIBA Americas: Team Capsules
The 2009 FIBA Americas Tournament starts on Wednesday in San Juan, Puerto Rico with a potential gold-medal game preview between Brazil and the emergent Dominican Republic on opening day.
10 teams are split into two groups. The top 4 in each group advance to knockout play. The 4 semifinalists will automatically qualify for the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey. (The U.S. has already qualified for the Worlds based on its gold medal in Beijing, and is sitting this tournament out.)
All of the games can be watched for free on ESPN360. If you are unable to access ESPN360, FIBA is offering the tournament on a pay-per-view basis for $15.
Here are preview team capsules for the 10 participating nations:
TIER I: (Semi-Final Favorites)
Key Players: L. Barbosa; A. Varejao; T. Splitter; M. Machado
Missing Players: Nene; R. Araujo; M. Vinicius;
Played very well in the exhibition stage, and rolled thru the Tuto Marchand Cup last week in Puerto Rico. Best starting five in the field. Nice balance between backcourt & frontcourt. This team will look to get out in transition, as they should.
As usual, this team has great team speed with L. Barbosa, M. Huertas, & A. Garcia. Not to mention their bigs run the floor hard. Thought they were more dangerous at the '06 Worlds when they played uptempo, and scrambled defensively. Did a nice job pushing the pace last week in Puerto Rico.
Coach Moncho Monslave was brought in to instill some type of order after the near mutiny at the '07 Americas under Coach Ferreira. In '07, Brazil would bog down offensively often up against the shot clock. Looked directionless, and would often forget to get the ball to Nene & Tiago Splitter on the blocks. Moncho has already seemed to solve some of these problems with better spacing & movement on offense.
In exhibition games, had a lot of success getting the ball to the baseline wing area then finding Andy Varejao or Splitter diving down the middle of the lane. Brazil likes using double-high post sets where bigs peel-n-seal. Looking to set up Splitter on the left block, sometimes even Varejao gets his number called. Obviously, Barbosa gets the majority of the perimeter plays.
Have noticed for a few years that Tiago's footwork has been improving, and showcased a few sweet up/under step-thru moves at the Tuto Cup. Will finish with either hand, but his touch can falter sometimes. Tiago can put the ball on the deck as well, but more in a straight-line way. Basically, best all-around big not in the NBA.
Splitter & Varejao are the best defensive frontline in the tourney. Both guys are comfortable moving away from the painted area, and adept at covering pick/rolls.
The underrated weapon of this team is veteran SF Marcelo Machado. His deadeye shooting skills are renowned, but it's his terrific passing skills that might be more impressive--great entry passer. Machado runs the floor well, and rebounds well for a SF.
Jeff Buckley-lookalike Marcelo Huertas is a speedy 6-3 PG who can penetrate and finish with variety of floaters. Former Spur/Hornet Alex Garcia likes to play aggressive defense, and brings more explosiveness to the backcourt off the bench. Combo forward Guilherme Giovannoni can step out to the perimeter. Former Gonzaga PF JP Batista is wide-body with nimble footwork on the block.
Still seem to have some issues with their free throw shooting; the foul line killed them in '06. They're the favorite for Gold, but not an overwhelming fave. The Dominicans matched up very well with Brazil, and Puerto Rico's depth rivals Brazil.
2) DOMINICAN REPUBLIC:
Key Players: Francisco Garcia; Al Horford; Chuck Villanueva
Missing Players: Trevor Ariza
The new contender on the Americas zone scene thanks to recent addition of handful of solid NBAers in the last few years. The trio of Al Horford, Francisco Garcia & recent add Chuck Villanueva usher in a new era for the Dominican Nat'l team. Earned a trip to '09 Americas by finishing 3rd in the '08 Centrobasket.
Like Splitter & Varejao are the best defensive frontline, Horford & Villanueva are arguably the best offensive frontline in the tourney.
Nice rotation on their wings with Garcia, Ricardo Greer, Franklin Western. Western played at Providence in the mid-90s, but the 37 year-old is still a reliable scorer. Euroleague & French league standout Ricardo Greer brings a solid all-around game. The 6-5 Greer rebounds well for his size, has great passing skills and is a disruptive defensive presence. Though, Greer & Western are not deep threats.
Kelvin Pena is a lanky wing who can knock down perimeter shots. Jack Michael Martinez is sort of a shorter version of Horford thanks to his strong rebounding, rugged defense & nice interior passing skills. Villanueva's shooting should complement Horford & JM Martinez's more interior-inclined skills well.
Biggest question mark for the Dominicans is the point-guard position. 6-2 PG Carlos Morban shot the long ball well last year, but in general is erratic shooter and a subpar distributor. The Dominicans would like to anoint Luis Flores (starred at Manhattan College & briefly played for Golden State) as their quarterback, but 6-1 Luis is a 2-guard at heart.
Have the goods to bring home the gold. Open the tourney on Wednesday with a possible Gold Medal game preview vs. Brazil. Should surely grab a qualifying spot at least.
On a side tangent--I know the D.R. federation doesn't have the cash reserves of USA BBall, but I hope the unis they have been wearing in exhibition games are just practice jerseys. Couldn't the NBA boys spring into their pockets and place an order for proper game gear. I used to find better jerseys in the $3 irregular bins at the Champion Factory Outlet back in the day.
3) PUERTO RICO:
Key Players: C. Arroyo; L. Ayuso; D. Santiago
Missing Players: JJ Barea
Probably the deepest roster in the tourney, and filled with battle-tested FIBA vets. Carlos Arroyo, Larry Ayuso, & Dan Santiago are back once again trying to win a FIBA Americas title in front of the home crowd.
Arroyo & Ayuso gives the home team one of the top backcourts in the tourney. Both guards can give you 20+ points every night. Arroyo is run thru constant ball screens while Ayuso is run thru off-ball screens. Ayuso can get extremely streaky (think a FIBA Ben Gordon) where every off-balance chuck finds the bottom of the net. Cat-quick reserve PG Filiberto Rivera (ex-UTEP) is a crafty passer, but ain't much of a shooter.
Plenty of long-distance weapons on the P.R. roster--Arroyo, Ayuso, C. Lee, AD Vassallo, & R. Sanchez. And the 3pt. shot is a big part of the P.R. offensive arsenal.
Have underrated combo at the SF position in 6-7 Carmelo Lee (ex-Long Beach) & recent VA Tech star, AD Vassallo. Lee is a reliable shooter, and his long arms wreck havoc on defense. The 6-6 Vassallo gives Puerto Rico another solid outside shooter, not to mention an athletic finisher off the bench.
Dan Santiago can do some scoring on the block and rolls well off high screens. 7-foot PF Ricky Sanchez (Nugget draftee) loves to spot-up behind the arc. Also, Sanchez has shown some glimpses of improved driving ability.
Puerto Rico's frontcourt depth could be in some doubt because of the questionable status of PF Angelo Reyes & 7-3 PJ Ramos. The possible loss of 6-8 Reyes could be a huge blow because Reyes' does the dirty work that the trio of 7-footers fail to do. Reyes is a bull on the boards. PJ Ramos has surprisingly spry post moves, but seems to be playing the game just because he's 7-3.
Have a shot at gold thanks to their depth and home-court advantage. Were beaten thoroughly by both Brazil & Dominican Rep. in warm-up games, but P. Rico was not at full-strength.
Key Players: Luis Scola; Pablo Prigioni; Paolo Quinteros
Missing Players: Manu; Nocioni; Delfino; Oberto
Tentatively penciled into the the last qualifying spot. Have not looked very sharp in the exhibition stage. Kind of hard to gauge since they look uninspired in exhibition stage, especially on the defensive end, and Pablo Prigioni has not played a single prep game.
The multiple no-shows have depleted the usual depth. And the no-shows probably upset Daryl Morey more than anybody. Arg. will have to ride Luis Scola hard because just don't have the requisite offensive firepower around him. I see Scola getting 35-37 mins/game.
Run plenty of pick/rolls, move Scola all over the floor 18 feet & in. Continue to run some of their patented flex sets. Basically, getting the ball to Scola on the block or for mid-range jumpers is the main objective.
Prigioni is the best point guard in the field, and he should give this team a totally different look than what we saw in the prep games. Not the greatest athlete or shooter, he just plays efficiently & under control. Precision passing is his calling card, and is sneaky jumping passing lanes. The Prigioni-Scola pick/roll is a dangerous play for opposing teams.
SG Paolo Quinteros is the designated sharpshooter who Argentina will constantly run off baseline screens. Sometimes Quinteros is used as playmaker in pick/roll, and was used this way a lot at the Tuto Cup. But I have to imagine his pick/roll will lessen with the return of Prigioni. Paolo can be frustrated if the opposing team keys in on him because he's only 6-1.
Big man Roman Gonzalez can hit a face-up jumper and occasionally score with a lefty hook. It looks like Roman was hired from his main gig as strip-club doorman to play just for summer. Perhaps the Arg. federation bribed Roman with a daily quarter-keg of his preferred cerveza in his locker-room stall so he can refresh pre-game, half-time, and immediately post-game.
Painted Area fave Federico Kammerichs is back this year but disappointedly has chosen to sport the full beard as opposed to the 'stache. Kammerichs (6-8) & Matias Sandes (6-7) provide Argentina with activity & rebounding at the SF. Neither is much of a shooter.
Not sure this squad's shooting is up to snuff. Besides Quinteros, reserve PG Juan Cantero is the only reliable shooter. Have to hope for Prigioni rekindling his hot hand from '07.
Not really much to play for besides pride. This roster is similar to '07 Silver Medal version, but the absence of Delfino changes the dynamics. It forces Quinteros into the secondary scoring role, and he's probably better suited for a strictly shooting role. But really doesn't matter how they fare, since they are essentially a lock for a wild-card berth into the Worlds if they don't make the semi-finals.
TIER II: (Each team should advance to 2nd round)
Key Players: Carl English; Joel Anthony; Jesse Young
Missing Players: Nash; Sam Dalembert; Juan Mendez; Greg Newton
The Maple Leaf Boys have had their ups & downs under the guidance of Leo Rautins the last few years. They had a solid showing in '07 with a 5th-place finish thanks in large part to dominant defensive play from Sam Dalembert. But at last summer's Olympic qualifer in Athens, something went seriously wrong behind the scenes and Sammy was sent packing.
Canada really didn't have high hopes earlier this summer, but things have slowly brightened in the Great White North. Canada has played not-terrible ball in the exhibition stage. The offense is still ugly, but the defense is stout. Team Canada recently throttled Argentina at the Tuto Cup.
There's really no one to create easy offensive looks on Team Canada. No one who's adept at running an offense or getting the team smoothly into sets. The pride of Newfoundland, 6-6 Carl English, is probably their best playmaker, but he's no great shakes himself. The athletic Newfie does a little bit of everything adequately, but nothing really well. But when he's considered your best option, your offense is in some trouble.
Canada can really go thru lulls on the offensive end, and I foresee this trend continuing. The lack of a potent scorer is compounded by the fact that they really don't have a strong pure point in the post-Nash era. 6-1 Jermaine Anderson (ex-Fordham) is an effective jump-shooter but can't really penetrate off the bounce, and has little in the way of point guard instincts.
Athletic swingman Olu Famutimi shows glimpses of big-time talent, but he only seems to show them in small bursts. Showed in the past he can create in the mid-range area, but he would disappear for long stretches.
This squad makes up for their lack of offensive continuity with strong work on defense & on the boards. Like they have been in the past, they're a solid rebounding unit and solid interior defense. Former Pitt Panther Levon Kendall is the first big off the pine and provides stout positional defense on the block & timely help. Miami Heat's Joel Anthony can't totally make up for the loss of Sam Dalembert, but he's an active body who will board & defend well. Starting PF Jesse Young is one tough hoser who can score some on the block with a decent jumper.
Off the bench, the Canucks turn to Syracuse's Andy Rautins for sharpshooting. Will run Rautins off screens, usually getting him open up high. 6-7 combo forward Aaron Doornekamp & 6-0 PG Tyler Kepkay (ex-Utah Ute) provide more perimeter marksmanship off the bench.
Canada actually has a collection of solid shooters--English, Anderson, Rautins, Kepkay, & Famutimi--they just have no players who draw extra defenders.
If Canada underachieves this summer and fails to push Argentina for the last qualifying spot, it's probably the end of Leo's coaching stint. And I would nominate Mr. Lahey to replace Leo because he knows what it takes to be in charge. Randy will join him as an asst. coach, sans polo shirt, of course.
Key Players: Esteban Batista; L. Garcia-Morales
Missing Players: Nicolas Mazzarino
Uruguay finished 6th in '07, and project as a middle-o-pack team again. They do have a decent chance of stealing a qualifying spot if Argentina plays lackluster ball. Though, this team can't afford any suspensions that might be doled out for their recent tap-dance with Mexico in a "friendly" game:
At least their first-round matchup with Mexico should be very interesting.
Have patterned their offense after their successful neighbor, Argentina. Like to run motion-type sets with some double-high post formation thrown in. Like Argentina, have good cohesion, and often play above their talent level.
Led by ex-Atlanta Hawk Esteban Batista, who's an absolute beast in the interior in FIBA--averaged 20 & 12 in '07. Will often have to navigate consistent double-teams, and draws a ton of fouls. His touch is a little dodgy, and can miss chippies, but has a knack for corralling his misses.
Batista badly needs help on the frontline--Uruguay has been undersized & deficient on the boards in the past. They hope 6-9 Reque Newsome (naturalized American) can aid Batista with rebounding.
Big PG Martin Osimani has a nice all-around floor game, and directs the offense with patience. Though, Osimani's health is questionable and if he can't go, Uruguay qualifying chances shrink. 6-4 Gustavo Barrera gives Uruguay another big PG with nice passing skills in case Osimani is laboring.
Leandro Garcia-Morales (ex-Tex A&M) is another combo guard that Uruguay can count on to provide solid shooting & some ball-handling. Garcia-Morales is also a dogged defender on the perimeter, who's a steals machine. 6-6 SF Mauricio Aquiar is an athletic scorer who likes to attack, but lacks a steady jumper.
The retirement of SG Nicolas Mazzarino is a significant loss. Springing Mazzarino open off screens was a big chunk of the Uruguay offense. His flawless jumper was a nice complement to Batista's interior work. Their outside shooting could be a problem, encouraging more doubles/triples on Batista.
Key Players: Hector Romero; Greivis. Vasquez; O. Torres; R. Lugo
Missing Players: None
Will be aided by some important vets who were absent from the '07 squad that finished 8th. 6-10 Richard Lugo returns to fold after a few years away from the national team. Lugo was the best player on the '06 Worlds team, averaging a double-double in group play.
Oscar Torres had a short stint in the NBA with the Rockets, where he pitched in 6 ppg for the '01-'02 season. A injury shelved Torres right before the '07 Americas. Torres shuns the outside shot to attack off the dribble.
They actually project to have a pretty nice frontcourt rotation this summer. The aggressive undersized PF Hector Romero was their go-to-guy in '07. Romero (6-7) looks to attack the basket 12-feet & in, and his powerful package draws fouls. 6-6 Axiers Sucre provides another tough, undersized forward who can score & rebound behind Romero.
Miguel Marriaga was considered a NBA prospect a few years ago but has never developed as hoped. The 6-11 athlete does showcase rare glimpses of promise with an occasional jumper, and nice shot-blocking ability. Young wide-body Greg Echenique adds some more talent up front. The Rutgers soph. was one of the top rookies in the Big East last year, and can board & bull his way to points.
The offense is directed by Maryland Terrapin stud Greivis Vasquez. Vasquez is a shifty floor general who makes up for his subpar speed with taut ball-handling & smarts. Vasquez can finish in traffic, but has an erratic jumper. Combo guardsCarlos Cedeno & Jose Vargas provide Venezuela with other ball-handlers, but both are subpar shooters.
Venezuela is held back by their inability to spread the floor. Zones can really put a crimp in their strengths: Lugo & Romero's interior work, and Vasquez & Torres' dribble penetration.
This team seems to have many more options than in '07. Could even see Venezuela finishing in 5th place ahead of Canada & Uruguay, maybe even sneaking into the Top 4. Though, they're gonna have to piece some decent shooting together.
8) VIRGIN ISLANDS:
Key Players: Cuthbert Victor; Jason Edwin; Kitwana Rhymer
Missing Players: Holman Harley
Surprised last year by finishing in 2nd Place at the '08 Centrobasket tourney, and want to approve on their 10th place finish in '07. Have one of their better rosters in recent memory, and picking them to advance to 2nd round. Though, closely matched with Mexico.
Nice collection of athletes across the board who like to attack and will try to push pace. Like to cause turnovers. Their strength lies on the perimeter with the trio of Jason Edwin, Cuthbert Victor, & Kevin Sheppard.
The 6-5 Edwin (ex-Kent St.) is a potent scorer & quality shooter (3rd-leading scorer in '07). Cuthbert uses his superb athletic gifts to rebound well for his size, change shots & play passing lanes. Victor ('04 Ohio Valley P.O.Y.) plays above his height (6-5) & was a terror at last summer's Centrobasket with 22 ppg & 10 rpg. The speedy Kevin Sheppard can dart past defenders but also has to be respected from the perimeter.
This summer, V.I. has added even more offensive potency to its perimeter in the form of former U. of Texas scoring machine Reggie Freeman & recent Florida Gator guard Walter Hodge. Though, Freeman is a volume shooter who's probably past his prime. Hodge adds more speed and solid 3pt. shooting to the backcourt.
6-10 ex-UMass standout Kitwana Rhymer is this team's best interior option. Raw offensively, but bangs the boards, and protects the rim. V.I. has gotten hurt on the boards in the past due to their lack of size. Hope to address a few of those size issues with the inclusion of two 6-10 college bigs, Phil Jones (UNC Char) & Greg Washington (Hofstra). Like Rhymer, they don't bring much offensively but can bring some goods on defense & on the boards.
I like this team as a scrappy sleeper. I expect them to fight with Mexico for 4th place in Group A. Could push Canada & Uruguay in group play. Only imagine what heights this team could reach if they called V.I. legend Holman Harley out of retirement for some in-game off-the-backboard dunks.
[Note: When initially published, we had Mexico at 8 and Virgin Islands at 9, as we misread the groups and incorrectly thought that V.I. was in the much tougher Group B, with Brazil, Argentina and Dominican Republic. We have since swapped the two countries - our apologies to Timmy, Raja and all of our devoted readers in St. Thomas and St. Croix.]
TIER III: (Just Hoping to Advance to 2nd Round)
Key Players: Romel Beck; Anthony Pedroza
Missing Players: Ed Najera; Earl Watson; Adam Parada
Mexico's '10 Worlds qualifying chances took a serious hit with the recent departures of Earl Watson & Ed Najera. Both NBAers declared their intention to join Mexico earlier this summer, but Najera's still dealing with injuries & Watson could not secure papers in time.
We'll be interesting to see if FIBA reprimands any Mexican players for their role in the Uru-Mex brawl. Romel Beck seemed to be a main participant the proceedings, though it seemed like the whole Mexican team was involved.
So the roster will look similar to the '07 version that finished in 7th under the guidance of Nolan Richardson. Looks like no more "Cuarenta Minutos de Infierno", but will still try to pile up points on offense. Mexico generates the majority of its points from its talented collection of backcourt players.
Mexico has one of the most dangerous players in the tourney is 6-7 Romel Beck. The former UNLV stud is a lanky wing with good quickness. He can stand-still shoot and create shots off the bounce. Beck was huge in '07, averaging 20 ppg on nearly 60% shooting, including a big showing vs. Team USA.
Anthony Pedroza (Fat Lever's son) joins Beck on the wings as the second scoring option. PG Omar Quintero provides more offensive pop in the backcourt.
The Mexican frontcourt has some decent size but lacks scoring acumen. Painted Area favorite Horacio Llamas returns for possibly his last national team go-round. The former Phoenix Sun Llamas is sort of fun to watch--he reminds me of a very poor's man version of Sabonis. 6-11 Llamas ambles his generous physique down the court like your father, but has nimble footwork, a silky touch, & nice passing skills.
Gustavo Ayon (ex-San Jose St.) replaces Adam Parada as a big who can pass & rebound. The athletic forward Noe Alonzo adds a bit of scoring up front.
Are closely matched with Virgin Islands in Group A, and their first-round game should determine who is final team into the 2nd round.
Key Players: JR Pinnock; Jaime Lloreda
Missing Players: Gary Forbes; Jamal Levy
In '07, Panama failed to make the 2nd round, and advancing to the 2nd round this year will be a chore as well. Didn't initially qualify for this tourney, slid into after Cuba decided to pull out of the tourney.
The worst outside shooting outfit in the field--awful past 15 feet. PG Jair Peralta & SG Max Gomez are the only rotation players with semi-reliable range. Should see a lot of packed-in defensive looks.
The poor shooting transfers over to foul line as well. Tend to be sloppy with the ball. Poor overall shooting combined with turnovers is a recipe for failure. Not a particular big team either. Keep their head just above water thanks to an active defense.
Led by former George Washington standout JR Pinnock. Pinnock is an explosive SG who loves to slash, but has a broken jumpshot. Feel free to give him a big cushion. Former LSU standout Jaime Lloreda gives them a solid inside presence who can score on the block & clean the boards. PG Joel Munoz splits time with Peralta at the point, and add some scoring into the mix.
Added the services of recent San Diego standout forward Gyno Pomare. 6-9 Pomare can hit the 15-footer and provide decent defense. Former Ark. Razorback Dionisio Gomez should aid Lloreda & Pomare on the boards.