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Plenty Of Local Talent In NCAA
The basketball season has started in the United States and two Puerto Ricans--Carlos Arroyo of the Toronto Raptors and Daniel Santiago of the Phoenix Suns--are active with the NBA. And there are more to come.
Arroyo and Santiago played NCAA basketball, and it's no secret that catapulted them to the NBA. During the 1990s, such players as José "Piculin" Ortiz (Oregon State University), Ramón Ramos (Seton Hall), and Ramón Rivas (Temple) were top players at their respective colleges and were selected in the NBA draft.
In 2000, it was Arroyo's (Florida International University) and Santiago's (University of New Mexico) turn. As the first decade of 2000 commences, there are more than a dozen players ready to play in NCAA Division I, including two females, and nine other people expected to play in Division II.
One big name is Orlando Meléndez, who will play with University of North Carolina, the same institution that saw Michael Jordan get started in basketball. Melendez is a 6-foot-8 forward who played for the Puerto Rico national team and is a member of the Superior Basketball League's Aibonito Polluelos. He may finally get his chance to prove his skills in his senior year.
A high jumper who had won dunk competitions in SBL All-Star Games, Meléndez has hardly seen action in three seasons with North Carolina. However, his performance with Aibonito in the SBL, and the fact several key players have left the team, will have Meléndez being considered as a starter for the 2001-02 season.
At Niagara University, two islanders should be closely watched. One is 6-foot-10 center, junior Luis Villafane, who has gotten physically stronger and better coordinated in two seasons with Niagara.
Then, there's Alvin Cruz, son of former Puerto Rico team great Angelo Cruz. The freshman guard has excellent speed and has improved his outside shooting, so he may be a starter on the team.
At Valparaiso University, there are two other Puerto Rican teammates. Sophomore Antonio Falú is a 6-4 point guard, who trained offseason with several NBA players. He's the type of guard who can run, pass, score, and steal. He will be joined by Miguel "Alí" Berdiel, also a sophomore, and they both may get starting guard positions.
Other top players expected to play a lot with their respective teams are Rick Apodaca (Hofstra University), Luis Rivas (Western Illinois), and Rafael "Pachi" Cruz (Youngstown State University).
Apodaca, at 6-3, will start at guard, specifically at the shooting position. Expect him to be among the top team scorers. Rivas, a 6-7 forward in his junior year, will get plenty of opportunities as a top reserve forward and should get enough experience to become a starter next year.
Cruz is the top guard coming off the bench last season. He now will get his starting point guard position.
Angel and Luis Rivera (no relation), both top players with the SBL Coamo Maratonistas, will play in New York-area colleges. Angel, a 6-9 center-forward sophomore, is considered a top rebounder with good skills as a blocker That's just what his Mount St. Mary University team needs.
Luis, a 6-5 forward, may have to battle for a starting position, something he hasn't accomplished in three years with St. Francis University. Still, experience will be necessary for him this season.
Rounding up the 12 players in NCAA Division I is Sammy Villegas, in his first year with University of Toledo. The 6-6 guard, however, will have to improve his ball-handling and passing skills if he wants to be a starter next year.
In women's basketball, Greishaly Cepero and Jessica Butler are expected to be key players in their respective teams. Cepero is a 6-3 sophomore forward with University of Nebraska, while Butler will make her debut as a player with Coppin State University.
In Division II, there's almost a starting five at Missouri Southern State. Carlos Escalera and Eddin "Guayito" Santiago return as starting guards, while forwards Antonio Latimer (6-8) and Arnaldo Febres (6-9) are expected to be in the starting lineup.
Other Division II players include Roberto Nieves, a 6-2 sophomore guard with Paris Junior College; Rich Borgos, a 6-0 senior guard with Des Moines; Cameron Benison (6-5 freshman forward with Keenesaw Jr. College) and Prentiss Gates (6-7 junior forward at Ventura Jr. College), both born in the United States of Puerto Rican parents; and Angel "Buster" Figueroa, who will play as a junior at Downing College.