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Puerto Rico High School Boy’s Team Wins Gold Medal At ISF World Volleyball Championship

By Gabrielle Paese

April 26, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Puerto Rico scored big last weekend in its first time hosting the International School Sport Federation's World Volleyball Championships in Carolina. Bayamón Military Academy (BMA), coached by Jorge Nieves, won the gold medal in the boy's competition, beating Italy in the final game, 26-24, 25-23, 26-24.

Guillermo Diaz was BMA's top scorer and scored the final five decisive points in the team's gold-medal win over Italy. Juan "Puchito" Figueroa and Juan Carlos Reyes also shone for BMA.

St. Francis school, of Carolina, finished with the bronze medal on the girl's side, losing to eventual champion China in the semifinals, 25-23, 25-19, and then beating Greece in four sets for the bronze medal, 25-13, 25-12, 20-25, 26-24. The team was paced by Karina Ocasio and coached by Vivian Salib.

"This is historic," said Freddy Sánchez Guardiola, who heads up the organization "Propulsores del Deporte. "This is only the third time in the event's history a host country wins two medals."

Sánchez Guardiola's group was responsible for bringing the tournament to the Americas for the first time in the ISF's near 30-year history of organizing a volleyball Worlds. Schools from a total of 23 countries participated, each having won its respective national championship to earn the right to represent its country.

Puerto Rico Volleyball Federation president Carlos Beltrán said he wasn't surprised to see Puerto Rico's team do so well, given the level of play on the island.

"These are accomplishments that we could have expected because Puerto Rico's players are doing so well at the NCAA level and having outstanding seasons at the Superior Volleyball League level," said Beltrán. "The development has been incredible."

Former Puerto Rico volleyball team coach José "Pepe" Besosa agreed.

"Our school players were up against teams with players who will one day be on their respective national selections, such as China, for example," said Besosa. "Playing in this type of tournament is only going to prepare our youngsters for the future."

About six representatives from NCAA schools were in attendance, reviewing the talent, which is good news for Puerto Rico's two participating schools and could mean potential college scholarships for kids who might not otherwise get a chance to study and play at the NCAA level.

China won the girl's title for the second straight year. This was the first time Puerto Rico had ever fielded a boy's team in these ISF Worlds. A girl's team debuted at the Worlds held two years ago in Portugal, finishing sixth.

Pudge' Rodríguez officially on DL

Texas Rangers catcher Iván Rodríguez officially joined teammate Juan González on the disabled list last week, retroactive to April 15. The 10-time All-Star catcher has a herniated L4-L5 disc in his lower back, and is expected to miss four to six weeks.

Texas Rangers' back specialist, Dr. Andrew Dossett said last week that surgery is unlikely, and rest is the best cure. Dossett also dispelled comments that Rodríguez injured his back because he came into spring training camp 20 pounds overweight.

According to Dossett, the injury is normal wear and tear in the life of a catcher. He said a complete MRI done back in February showed up normal.

Rodríguez didn't finish either of the last two seasons due to different injuries.

According to team spokesman John Blake, Rodríguez is currently receiving therapy with the team trainers in Texas.

Island gears up for local basketball season

Puerto Rico is getting ready for the start of the Superior Basketball League (SBL) season on April 30 when the defending champion Santurce Cangrejeros tip off versus the Ponce Leones at Roberto Clemente Coliseum. The Cangrejeros, owned by promoter Angelo Medina, are looking for their fifth straight title in a league that features 13 teams.

Meanwhile, the Puerto Rico basketball team, coached by Julio Toro, is also preparing for a busy summer. The island will compete at the 2002 World Basketball Championships in Indianapolis, Ind., in late August.

More than 60 players have been invited to tryouts as Puerto Rico will try to improve upon its best performance at a Worlds -- fourth place in 1990 in Argentina.

José "Piculín" Ortiz, a first-round Utah Jazz draft pick back in 1987, leads Puerto Rico's team, which also features fellow veteran Jerome Mincy and NBA newcomers Daniel Santiago (Phoenix Suns) and Carlos Arroyo (Denver Nuggets).

Puerto Rico plays in the first round versus Brazil, Turkey and Lebanon.

Denver's Arroyo to re-join Cangrejeros

Arroyo, the only Puerto Rican active in the NBA this season, was the star of his very own press conference last week, hosted by his SBL team, Santurce.

Looking quite the NBA player in his tailor-made suit and diamond earrings, Arroyo's dapper appearance belied the little kid in him dying to talk about his NBA experience.

The 22-year-old played in 37 games, starting the season with the Toronto Raptors, before being waived in January. He spent a one-month stint in Spain's ACB league and then finished out the season with the already eliminated Denver Nuggets.

"I think one of the reasons I didn't stay with Toronto is because my work ethic wasn't at the NBA level," said Arroyo. "Those guys lift weights, watch their diets and work hard on their game in practices.

"I gained confidence in Denver," said Arroyo. "I'd say 95 percent of [playing in the NBA] is mental."

The 6-1, 200-pound guard said encouragement came in unexpected places.

"In a game we played against Washington I got sent in as a sub at the same time as Michael Jordan," said Arroyo. "As I was going in, Michael asked, ŒThis guy's gonna guard me?' I told him, ŒI've got to get this 10-day contract."

Arroyo said he sat out a subsequent game versus the Wizards because he was sick and was sent into the Washington locker room to be seen by their team doctors.

"On the way in, I passed Michael Jordan," said Arroyo. "He was getting ice and he must have been really sick because he had a towel over his head. He told me, ŒCarlos, you're not sick, let's go out and play now.'

"It was a nice surprise for me because I thought he was going to be all stuck up and he was just the opposite," Arroyo said.

The Cangrejeros guard began working out with the Santurce team late last week.

San Juan to host NBA 2002 season opener?

Meanwhile, Crabbers owner Angelo Medina, who manages the career of pop star Ricky Martin, said earlier this week that the president of NBA International will be in Puerto Rico this weekend to look over the island as a possible venue for the 2004 NBA season opener.

"This is similar to the previous visit [by other NBA officials] and he'll be evaluating the venue and the island," said Medina, who added that a possible NBA season opener would be held in the Hato Rey coliseum currently under construction.

Medina also added that he will continue to pitch to bring an NBA franchise to San Juan as soon as five years from now.  

Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the most recent recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at

Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.

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