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Antigua Breaks Ground For Latinos In NCAA Basketball; Castellvi Discusses Her Future

By Gabrielle Paese

July 25, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

No one can ignore the Latin presence on sport’s playing fields. From baseball, to boxing to basketball, Latin players have made their own unique stamp on the game. Yet coaching and front-office positions have been another hurdle entirely.

Much of the Latin behind-the-scenes talent has idled in heavy traffic for decades, relegated to lesser administrative posts while waiting for a big break. That panorama is changing, thanks mostly to the stellar work being done by the handful in positions of power. Major League Baseball has paved the way by example, opening doors for vice president of international operations Lou Melendez, Latin American marketing director Sara Loarte, Players Union special assistant Tony Bernazard and Montreal Expos’ Omar Minaya, baseball’s first Latino GM, who was 18th on Sports Illustrated’s recent list of the "101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports." Melendez, Loarte and Bernazard are all Puerto Rican; Minaya is Dominican.

Now here comes Orlando "Hurricane" Antigua with the potential to become the first Latino basketball player to cross NCAA coaching or front-office lines. The University of Pittsburgh standout player joined the defending Big East champion’s staff several months ago as director of basketball operations, a position he plans to tap into for his coaching and administrative future.

"After coach Ben Howland went to UCLA, assistant coach Jamie Dixon was named to take over. He and I got a chance to talk and he knew I wanted to stay around basketball," said Antigua. "This is a great first step because I get a chance to experience the on-court side as well as the recruiting and administrative issues."

After catching scouts’ attention during his high school playing days at St. Raymond’s in New York (he was named McDonald’s All-American his senior year) and with the Gauchos basketball team, Antigua signed with the University of Pittsburgh. In the days before Jenny from the Block, he gained media attention as the kid who’d taken a bullet to the head in a drive-by in his rough Bronx neighborhood. In 1994, he was named the United States Basketball Writers' Association Most Courageous Athlete because he played two years of his collegiate career with the bullet still lodged in his head. Doctors were afraid to remove it and risk brain damage; it eventually worked its way out of Antigua’s head through his ear.

He spent his summers playing Superior Basketball with the Carolina Gigantes thanks to his mom’s Puerto Rican roots and in the Dominican league thanks to his father’s Dominican roots. The 6-7 forward would have been a great asset to the Puerto Rican team for international play but he chose the Dominican squad instead. He was part of a talented Dominican dream team that flirted briefly with Olympic and World championships qualifying for the first time in the history of its program. Fellow SBL player Franklyn Western, of the Bayamon Cowboys, was also part of that squad as was NBA player Felipe Lopez.

During his collegiate career as a Pitt Panther, Antigua put up big numbers during his freshman and sophomore years under coach Paul Evans as the team earned first an NIT and then an NCAA tournament berth. He was ranked in Pitt's all-time top ten in career 3-pointers made, career 3-point field goal percentage, and blocked shots.

Ironically, Antigua’s best preparation for his current life in a suit and tie was the seven years he spent in a numbered jersey, as the first Latino Harlem Globetrotter. He surprised all of Puerto Rico by eschewing NBA camps and European scouts in 1995 and signing a deal to travel with the Globetrotters.

"The Globetrotters were a great experience. I got to travel the world and entertain people. Not many people get that opportunity to be an ambassador of goodwill," Antigua said.

Call it a lesson in human relations. Before joining the Globetrotters, Antigua was already a natural leader. On Dominican national team road trips, it was Antigua who cracked jokes on the team bus and at the dinner table. He united grizzled veterans and green rookies — for him it was as easy as switching back and forth between English and Spanish in a conversation.

During his career as a Globetrotter, he met everyone from Muhammad Ali to Michael Jordan to Magic Johnson to Dr. Dre. He did commercials, traveled around the world, showed his skills on David Letterman and Regis & Kathy Lee. In 2001, he was voted by Hispanic Business Magazine as one of the 100 most influential Hispanics.

Yet even after he’d been there and done that, he still rated meeting Nelson Mandela in South Africa as his finest day.

And despite all the stars and glamour, Antigua is neither world-weary or jaded. He retired in February of 2002 because he was burned out from the travel and he missed his family. And maybe the colorful Pitt Panther he had tattooed on his left shoulder in college spoke of things to come.

"I felt it was just time for the next phase of my life," said Antigua, now 30. "I have this passion for coaching and I know it’s what I’m supposed to be doing — just like when I was playing and I knew that it was my time to do that."

He cemented his plan last year when he turned up at a suburban Pittsburgh basketball camp at the invitation of a former college teammate.

"I really liked speaking and working with the kids and I guess it sparked my coaching bug," said Antigua, whose brother, Oliver, also a former player, is head coach at St. Raymond’s. "I threw my hat out to the college ranks to let people know I was looking."

Ask him about his new job and his eyes light up. He recounts his duties with the same intensity he uses to talk about the antics of his 3-year-old daughter, Olivia.

"I like the fact that I can still get on the court and show the kids what I’m talking about. Even though I haven’t played basketball in four months, I can go down there and still dunk," said Antigua. "It helps lend a little credibility."

Pitt will also likely be looking to Antigua’s connections to help recruit. Antigua knows that there are dozens of Puerto Rican and Dominican kids both on the islands as well as in New York just waiting for college scouts to notice their skills. In fact, one of the Dominican Republic’s most talented young players is a Pitt graduate — Ricardo Greer.

Antigua is also aware his success will open doors for other Puerto Ricans and Dominicans.

"It’s a position I’m happy to be in. I like to approach it as going in and doing the best job you can. I try to treat people well and do good work and take advantage of whatever opportunities come my way," said Antigua.

Castellvi: ‘It has been a lot of fun so far’

Five tournaments into her USTA pro circuit debut, Puerto Rican tennis prospect Vilmarie Castellvi will take a break next week to play in the Pan Am Games, along with Kristina Brandi, a former WTA top 50 player who is also seeing action on the USTA circuit as she makes her way back up into the rankings following a wrist injury.

The two saw action at the same tournament last week during the Long Island Tennis Classic, but the much-talked about showdown never happened. Castellvi lost in the second round while Brandi made it all the way to the quarters before bowing out.

The future looks extremely bright for both tennis players. As I said last week, Two-time Olympic gold medalist Gigi Fernandez, winner of 17 Grand Slam doubles titles and coach of Puerto Rico’s women’s team, has taken Castellvi under her wing for this USTA circuit venture.

Even during the losses, like last week’s second round 6-2, 6-0, loss to Russia’s Alina Jidkova, Fernandez is able to help Castellvi put things in perspective.

"While losing that badly is no fun for anyone, it is through these types of loses that you truly learn what you need to do to get better. Winning is great, but can give you a false sense of security because it makes you content with what you do and doesn't push to strive to get better. This loss clearly will."

Castellvi said the five tournaments thus far have been quite an education. A brief interview with the Guaynabo native follows.

Q: How is it different playing in these tournaments compared to collegiate tennis? Harder or easier? Have you made any changes to your game (in the way you hit the ball AND/OR in the way you think about competition) since the NCAA finals?

Castellvi: "I think it is definitely harder because you have to play your A game every match you play. Not only that, but your concentration has to be there at all times. On these tournaments it is pretty evident that I am one of the few players that do not have the experience."

Q: How does it help having Gigi there to coach and counsel?

Castellvi: "She has been there and done what I am doing right now. She, not only was a great tennis player, but she also has a lot of experience from playing on the tour for so many years."

Q: What goals have you set for yourself in terms of tennis? Gigi said that after just four tournaments, your ranking made an unprecedented jump. Would you like to play on the WTA regular tour? Castellvi: "Absolutely, my goal has always been to be the best tennis player I can be, which includes making it on the tour and being at least top 50 in the world."

Q: What's it like so far? Is it fun, intimidating, exciting? Do you get nervous before matches and if so, what do you do to stay calm?

Castellvi: "It has been a lot of fun so far, I have played a lot of matches so I am getting the hang of it. Whether I get nervous or not? From playing college tennis I have learned that getting really nervous does not help anyone on the court. Some of the things I learned are that I am the one that controls what I do and what I feel on the court. Getting a little nervous is ok as long as it does not get on my way of playing. I also do not look at the draws of the tournament because I don’t like dwelling too much on who I am playing and/or who I would be playing on the next round."

Q: Who do you credit for getting you involved in the sport? Why did you get interested in tennis, who got you started and at which courts? What made you keep it up as a teenager? How and why did you decide on Tennessee for college?

Castellvi: "I guess I have to thank my parents for getting me involved with tennis. They are the ones that have supported me since I began in the sport. I loved tennis ever since I stepped on the tennis court at Las Villas de Torrimar with Rey Oyola (who was my first tennis coach). Sports are all about sacrificing; I loved the sport, I was good at it, so I decided to give it a shot and I succeeded for the most part.

Why Tennessee? Tennessee is a school with a great athletic program, a great support staff, and I have to mention my coaches because they were most of the reason why I went there."

Q: You get another chance to represent Puerto Rico next month at the Pan Am Games? Have you played against any of the women from the rest of the Americas (who did not play in the Central American-Caribbean Games)? At the CAC Games your toughest rival was teammate (and gold medalist) Kristina Brandi. Who are the players to beat at the Pan Ams?

Castellvi: "I can’t wait. I think representing Puerto Rico at the Pan Am games is a great opportunity for me to gain even more experience. Although, playing the CAC Games helped in that aspect, I think the competition at the Pan Am games will be much higher. Honestly, I have no idea what players are going to the Pan Am games from the other countries. In fact, I do know that the United States is bringing Carly Gullickson, Sarah Taylor, and Ansley Cargill, who are all good players."

Gigi Fernandez, meanwhile, had this to say about Castellvi’s career after the five USTA circuit tournaments.

Q: How crucial is it to have someone to guide a player just starting out as a pro? Is women's pro tennis more or less difficult than when you first started? How would you evaluate Castellvi’s skill level and mental game at this point?

Fernandez: "I think would Vil agree that the biggest help I give her is guidance in her decision-making process. I think it takes someone that has been there to know the ins and outs of being a professional tennis players from knowing what tournaments to play to helping her get ready for her matches. I think pro tennis is more difficult now.

"The depth is greater than when I played. There is also more money and therefore not only more people wanting to play, but also more money for the players to be able to afford to get the right team behind them. I think Vil’s mental game has carried her through out the summer tournaments so far. She is extremely strong mentally and has a lot of belief in herself. Her game is very good and getting it better is the easy part. Mastering the mental part is the hardest. Her ability to meet the new challenges that she faces will determine her success on tour."

Castellvi got another tough break this week after she was denied a wild card for the Lexington, Ky., tournament in which Brandi is playing.

"The NCAA decided that because the tournament is being held at a University Campus and run by a head coach, wild cards were not in compliance with NCAA rules. The only way to make it a legal event, was to eliminate all wild cards. We had already pulled out of Evansville to avoid a fine, so we are not in any tournaments [this] week," Fernandez said. "It's a real bummer and not really fair. I am in communication with the USTA to see if there is anything they can do. They have offered a wild card to another tournament, so we'll keep our fingers crossed that the other tournament is the U.S. Open, but I wouldn't hold my breath."

Fernandez said that by missing the Lexington, Ky., tournaments, Castellvi will probably not have enough points to be ranked among the top 250 and thus miss qualifying for the U.S. Open.

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

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

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