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Puerto Rico Is A Tiny David Versus Basketball's Goliaths At 2002 World Championship

By Gabrielle Paese

June 28, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Puerto Rico's best placing ever at a World Basketball Championships was fourth place at the 1990 Worlds in Buenos Aires, back in the days before NBA players slam-dunked in the faces of unsuspecting Angolans on international basketball courts.

Since then, the closest the island has come is eighth. It's going to be tough going to improve upon that in late August when Puerto Rico competes at the 2002 Worlds in Indianapolis, Ind. Let me just start off by saying that eighth place in the world is not bad considering the island's basketball program had its head buried way down deep on a Cabo Rojo beach for most of the late '90s, holding fast to an aging team and paying only lip service to aging talent.

But those days look like they're ending. While many of the old-timers are still on the long list, expect to see some new faces by the time coach Julio Toro pares it down to his final 12 players in August.

At a press conference last week, the local federation unveiled the crop of players who have made the first cut. Topping the charts are the obvious starters, Jose "Piculin" Ortiz, Carlos Arroyo and Daniel Santiago. Arroyo, a 6-2 point guard, is under contract with the Denver Nuggets while Santiago, a 7-1 center, saw time with the Phoenix Suns last season. Ortiz, the backbone of Puerto Rico's team since the late '80s is a 6-10 forward/center who was drafted by the Utah Jazz out of college but spent most of his career playing in Spain and Greece. Ortiz will be playing in his fourth World Championships.

Ortiz, at 38, is the team's grandaddy, and two of his teammates from that fourth-place finishing team in 1990 have also been invited back -- 6-7 forward Jerome Mincy and 6-0 point guard James Carter, both also 38. Besides those three, age gives way to youth for this edition. The youngest veterans on the team are 27-year-old Eddie Casiano, a 6-2 shooting guard, 32-year-old Javier "Tonito" Colon, a 6-1 point guard and 30-year-old Luis Allende, a 6-5 forward. All three have vast international experience. Casiano debuted with the national team in 1991 at age 17.

Those with little or no international seasoning but plenty of talent and potential include 7-2 center Peter John Ramos, just 17 and 25-year-old Jeffrey Aubry, a 6-10 center who played this past season with Fayetteville of the National Basketball Development League, the NBA's farm system. Other potential players include Antonio "Puruco" Latimer, a 6-7 forward; 6-8 forward Keenan Jourdon and 6-5 guard/forward Joel Jones Camacho, among others.

In the case of Jones Camacho and Jourdon, the federation is still waiting word from the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) as to whether it will exercise its "grandfather clause," which essentially prohibits third-generation players to return to play with their grandparents' native country. By this rule, either a player or his parents need to have been born in Puerto Rico to qualify as Puerto Rican by FIBA rules.

Lady Luck (or in the very least Pan American Basketball Confederation president Genaro "Tuto" Marchand) was with Puerto Rico during the draw for these Worlds. Our first round rivals? Turkey, Lebanon and Brazil. That means the island team has a fighting chance to make it to the second round, with Brazil being the only opponent of consequence in Group B.

The island's basketball team also has new management, under the thumb of a local businessman, Salvador Vilella. Vilella has shopped the team to new local sponsors and set forth an aggressive recruiting plan that seeks out the children and grandchildren of Puerto Ricans living stateside. That, combined with a healthy exodus of local players into the NCAA ranks, has made for more options for all five spots on the court.

Finally, coach Toro has a reputation for molding worthless lumps of clay into men. A lawyer by trade, in the court of Toro's preference, disputes are settled by a referee in black and white stripes instead of a judge in a long robe. He takes an almost Zen-like approach to the game, practicing yoga while his players warm up before big games.

Toro is the Superior Basketball League's (SBL) winningest skipper, with 600 victories to his name and nearly 1,000 throughout his career. Virtually ignored by his own country in the '90s, he took on the challenge of coaching the Venezuelan national basketball program, steering them to a historic berth at the 1992 Olympics, where they actually finished second in the qualifier to the first Dream Team. Toro's current SBL team, the Santurce Cangrejeros, is going for its fifth straight league championship.

Should anyone spark Puerto Rico's team to great heights, it will be Toro. However, the World's best are also the NBA's best. The U.S., which did not field an NBA team for the 1998 Worlds due to a player boycott, is back with yet another edition of its Dream Team. Puerto Rico isn't likely to be a match for teams from Germany, Yugoslavia and Russia, all pre-tournament favorites.

U.S. team's Jason Kidd said the home team is primed for a challenge in Indianapolis.

"When you talk about the Canadian team you think of Steve Nash and Todd [MacCulloch], and in Sacramento you have [Predrag] Stojakovic, [Hidayet] Turkoglu and [Vlade] Divac. Pau Gasol has had a great rookie year for Memphis and he will play for Spain. Dallas' whole team is almost all foreign. The Mavs have Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Bradley who are playing for Germany, and they have Wang Zhizhi who is part of China's 'Walking Great Wall,'" Kidd said in a recent interview. "There are quite a few international players in the NBA now who can really play. The international players aren't afraid of the United States anymore which makes the game even more interesting."

Filly Mediavilla R. wins Triple Crown

Mediavilla R., with jockey Javier Santiago in the irons, made history Sunday when she became the first filly ever to win a Puerto Rico Triple Crown at Canovanas' El Comandante racetrack.

The 3-year-old's victory came by virtue of her easy domination Sunday in the San Juan Cup, the third leg of the Triple Crown, which she won by 14 lengths over the 1 3/16 mile in a time of 1:59.05.

Santiago also made history by winning back-to-back Triple Crowns while Mediavilla R.'s trainer, Jorge "Pucho" Maymo, followed in his father's footsteps. The Maymos became the first father-son trainer duo to win local Triple Crowns. The late Javier "Babi" Maymo saddled Hurly Road, who won the 1981 edition.

Sent off as a 1-5 favorite, Mediavilla R. passed tiring Salado's Kid and One For Sammy in the final 900 meters and just took off, beating six challengers.

"She took off fast from the gate and at the first turn I got the signal from her that she was ready for the challenge. At the back stretch, she started to pull my reins, so I let her go with 900 meters left," said Santiago who won the Triple Crown last year aboard Estrellero.

Mediavilla R.'s record is 16 wins in 18 starts with seven straight stakes race victories. In May she won the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Puerto Rican Derby, over 1 1/16 mile in 1:48.2 and the Governor's Cup over 1 1/8 mile in 1:55.3.


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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