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PUERTO RICO HERALD
Island Takes Pride In Carmelo Anthonys Roots, Even Though Syracuse Freshmans Future Lies In The U.S.
By Gabrielle Paese
April 11, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
Superior Basketball League coach Jorge Melendez, working with his brother Flor, on the Mayaguez Indios staff, "discovered" Carmelo Anthony first. Local hoops lore has it that Melendez saw Anthony play last April in the McDonald's All-Star tournament in
New York and realized the Oak Hill Academy senior had Puerto Rican roots. Anthony's father who died with Anthony was 2, was Puerto Rican born, and Anthony's father's family still lived on the west coast of the island.
That meant that Anthony was eligible to play in the SBL. A player can be as far removed as second-generation Puerto Rican and still return to the island and play as a "native" (this is the league's term for Puerto Rican players).
At that 2002 tournament in Madison Square Garden, Anthony scored 19 points to help his East team win it all. While at Oak Hill Academy, Anthony led his team to a 32-1 record and a No. 2 national ranking, scoring 21.7 points and grabbing 7.4 rebounds. It was a good enough show to get any program to take notice.
In checking out Anthony, Melendez was only following the path scouts in Puerto Rico have been traveling since the 70s when the island's basketball team was made up almost exclusively of New York-born or raised Puerto Ricans. Back then, the scouts would hang out at the basketball courts in the five boroughs, comb school listings for Latin names and check out the high schools. With the internet, these days the job is as easy as a Google search.
In the end, it was Ponce Leones franchise holder Jose "Che" Torres who finally enticed Anthony down in June of 2002. He visited for a weekend, made comments about how he would like to play in the SBL and that was about the extent of it. Torres reportedly signed Anthony, hoping to convince him to play in the summer league. If in fact, Anthony was considering it, the NCAA foiled his plans when it declared the SBL a pro league and ruled its Division I players ineligible to participate.
Anthony himself closed the door one month later when he made his debut with the U.S. junior national team that played in the World Qualifying tournament in Isla Margarita, Venezuela. The New York-born Anthony helped the United States to a bronze medal, averaging a team-best 15.6 ppg. Puerto Rico won the gold medal at that qualifier.
If he doesn't decide to turn pro before then, he'll likely represent the U.S. again this summer at the Junior Worlds in Malaysia. Puerto Rico also qualified for that tournament.
Obviously, Anthony would have been a huge asset to the Puerto Rican national team. But given his NBA aspirations, it was unlikely he would ever have considered playing on the island.
Still, the 6-7 freshman forward, who helped Syracuse to a national title with an 81-78 win over Kansas, was Puerto Rico's media darling all week. His photo graced the covers of the island's newspapers and here on the island, fans watched game clips during local TV news broadcasts. While the NCAA championship game usually rates but a mention here, Anthony got Syracuse more attention in Puerto Rico than usual thanks to his roots.
SBL about to start spring cleaning
Elsewhere in basketball, the legislature finally released its findings after two weeks of public hearings aimed to get to the root of the SBL's problems. Amazingly enough, Rep. Severo Colberg Toro, who was in charge of the witch hunt (oops, I mean hearings), named a 10-member committee composed of the same people who have been fighting for control over the ball for the past 10 years.
Will Colberg be able to get all of these men to sit down at one table, smoke a peace pipe and eat humble pie? My guess is no. However, it looks as though the power base P.R. Basketball Federation president Hetin Reyes (who was also president of the SBL two years ago) once owned has finally crumbled. National team GM Salvi Vilella is calling the plays in the new basketball order, with FIBA Americas point man Jenaro "Tuto" Marchand coaching behind the scenes. Marchand, in spite of his long years on the job in Puerto Rican and international basketball, still remains both creative and practical.
While Colberg Toro outlined seven "recommendations" for the local league and P.R. team, you can bet your tax return that the following changes will be in place before 2005. Here's a look into my crystal basketball.
1) The SBL will shift its season from summer to fall/winter. Franchise holder Ricardo Carrillo said it best last week when he commented that with the NCAA players banned from seeing SBL action (or they risk their college eligibility), there's no longer any reason to play in the summer. Marchand has been calling for a fall league for the past 15 years. It puts Puerto Rico in direct competition for talent with the European leagues, but at the same time offers lucrative marketing possibilities because it opens up the possibility of interleague play with Latin and European teams.
2) The U-22 league will become a competitive summer amateur league for collegiate players.
3) The P.R. team will practice for more than two weeks before an international event. With the SBL season out of the way, the P.R. team will no longer have lack of practice time as an excuse for lousy international showings in the future.
Finally, the marketing and attendance problems facing the league right now won't be solved immediately by a change of season, but would disappear in the event of interleague play between just about ANY league in Latin America (I'm thinking Venezuela and the Dominican Republic immediately).
Sports in general in Puerto Rico is struggling to retain fans so bringing the fans back to the stadium won't be as easy as a shift from summer to fall. To improve attendance and bring more sponsors on board, the league needs to devote time and money to marketing each team as well as the league itself.
Expos open San Juan season
The moment we've all been waiting for has finally arrived. The Expos open their 22-game San Juan season April 11 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium versus the Mets. As of this writing, none of the Mets-Expos four-game series had been sold out, although promoter Antonio Munoz confirmed that he will fill the stadium on game days by giving away tickets to the local baseball leagues to fill the stands with children. It's a good idea. It wouldn't look good to have the TV camera crews panning to empty seats, especially because that's what the Expos are complaining about in Montreal.
Banco Popular, the event's main sponsor, has developed a Puerto Rican version of "Take me out to the ballgame" for the seventh-inning stretch. It follows the same tune, the lyrics are neatly translated and it is just as hokey as the English version. Not nearly as fun as the plena the Puerto Rican fans in the stands usually create all by themselves during winter league ballgames.
Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.