The FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Men already started with no surprises as New Zealand, Slovenia, Croatia and Greece won on day 1. The Puerto Rican team makes their debut on day 2 against Cameroon who lost to Croatia 93-79.
Puerto Rico looks to grab one of the three spots left in the 2008 Olympic Games in this tournament played in Athens, city that was also the host of the 2004 Olympics, site of their greatest triumph against the United States 92-73.
The team goes without forward Angelo Reyes and guard Rick Apodaca, both members of the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship team that finished in third place. Both are not available due to personal reasons. The loss of Reyes is huge for the team not only because he was going to be one of the starters, but he also was one of the best rebounders in the team. Apodaca was the proven player at the shooting guard position coming from the bench.
Now the team has new faces like Javier Mojica, who played in Puerto Rico for Cariduros de Fajardo, and in the NCAA with Central Connecticut State. He is known for being a good scorer and knows how to play defense but many fans question his height at this level but there is no doubt that he has the will to perform well in this event.
Joel Jones also comes in the tournament, during the trials he impressed everyone after a season with some injuries in Ponce, but despite the injuries he enjoyed a very good season. Of all the players, Jones is the best athlete of the team being one of the fastest and his leaping ability is great. He could help bringing in some rebounds if needed.
Luis Villafañe comes in as one of the many prospects in the center position. Villafañe played for Gigantes de Carolina and graduated from Niagara University. He is an intelligent player that does his job on the paint especially grabbing rebounds and intimidating.
Guard Filiberto Rivera works as the third point guard of the team. During his career he has executed in clutch moments and is a good ball handler. He played in the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship and has some years of experience in the national team.
Alex Falcon of Cangrejeros de Santurce comes in for Reyes. During his career Falcon has done his job on the paint and his experience is valuable for this team. He can do a little bit of everything and contribute inside for this team.
Center Daniel Santiago returns to the team after one year out of the national team. Santiago has the experience, he always plays at a high level and brings consistency to the position. He is known for getting in foul trouble early but this time he doesn't have a lot of responsabilities like when he came in after Jose Ortiz retired. Now he will share time with Peter John Ramos and might play together with him some times.
Jose Juan Barea is one of the rising stars in our basketball and is a Dallas Maverick for many years. Barea along with Carlos Arroyo are the point guards of the team, so Puerto Rico is in good hands with two of the best guards in the region.
Sharpshooter Larry Ayuso continues representing the island and had a good season with Santurce. The team needs his precision from the three point line to create more opportunities offensively and his experience will help the team achieve their goal.
Carmelo Lee is one of the most complete players in our league, can score, defend and also pass the ball effectively. He needs more consistency but even in an off day he contributes on both sides of the floor.
Ricky Sanchez is another young player with a bigger role this time as a power forward. He is better suited for the small forward position because of his long range but the team needs him down low helping the centers at getting the rebounds.
The pressure could be on center Peter John Ramos to show that he has what it takes to be the starting center of the national team for many years to come. From a very young age he has represented the island and his is a great time to show everything to the fans in the island and internationally.
Puerto Rico has a good chance to qualify for the Olympics and when they are concentrated in their goal they are almost unstopabble.
Their debut at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament is against Cameroon on July 15 then against Croatia on the 16. With a win against Cameroon they secure a pass to the quarterfinals.
In other notes, the Puerto Rican Junior (U18) National Team is playing at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship and started by crushing Bahamas 97-65 led by Carlos Lopez with 24 points and 10 boards. They will face Venezuela and USA in the preliminary round as part of Group B.