Opinion: Standing Applause For The National Team

Although they failed to achieve the objective for which they were playing, the Puerto Rico National Basketball Team and its manager, Eddie Casiano, deserve a standing applause for the way they played in the Olympic Repechage in Serbia.

Let’s be frank. No one in Puerto Rico had any real hope that Puerto Rico would win the only ticket at stake. And much less when the casualties of Tyler Davis, Shabazz Napier and José Juan Barea were announced.

In truth we went, due to those casualties, with a very young team, inexperienced on stage, and thinking that qualification for Tokyo 2020 would be achieved was more difficult to believe than hitting the pool pot at the racetrack.

National team general manager Carlos Arroyo comforts point guard Gary Browne during a moment of frustration. (Supplied / FIBA)

However, Puerto Rico was a contender in their two games before the powerful teams of Italy and Serbia. And they did it by playing the way that Cassian preached they should play, this as a result of training as Cassian advocated that it should be done.

From the day one of the training sessions in Puerto Rico, Casiano stressed that the group that accepted the call was committed to giving everything in practice, aware that only then could they leave everything in the official games.

I believe that if Puerto Rico had something good in the tournament, it was a united team, dedicated and committed to a philosophy of the game. As I said before, no one in their right mind expected Puerto Rico to win the tournament.

Casiano spoke that the group had unity and that there were no egos in the cast. He even specified that the only option they would have to win over teams like Italy and Serbia would be by playing high-level basketball, with constant intensity and a lot of concentration. And of course, he also admitted that doing it for 40 minutes would be a tough challenge.

So it was. It happened to the letter.

While the boys were able to present more intense than their rivals, they managed to gain considerable advantages over their rivals. When the energies lowered, as happens by nature, they were overcome, but not via scourge. On the contrary, in those spaces Puerto Rico continued fighting and did not stop fighting. He did not lose his concentration. He didn’t let frustration get the better of him. It was not delivered.

That, for me, is worthy of admiration, worthy of applause. And respect is deserved by the players and the leader, who sold them a formula that was adopted and made Puerto Rico let it be known at the tournament that despite going through a transition process there is a future at its base.

Sadly, when the press conference arrived after the game that cost Puerto Rico the elimination, a Puerto Rican blogger who had access to the interrogation asked an unexpected question for Casiano and many. He questioned the coach if failing to qualify for Tokyo 2020 would lead him to resign from the position for which he is under contract until 2023. Casiano refused to answer the question, calling it “stupid.”

In this regard, I believe that if Puerto Rico had something good in the tournament, it was a united team, dedicated and committed to a philosophy of the game. As I said before, no one in their right mind expected Puerto Rico to win the tournament.

Sadly, when the press conference arrived after the game that cost Puerto Rico the elimination, a Puerto Rican blogger who had access to the interrogation asked an unexpected question for Casiano and many. He questioned the coach if failing to qualify for Tokyo 2020 would lead him to resign from the position for which he is under contract until 2023. Casiano refused to answer the question, calling it “stupid.”

Now, Casiano had said that whenever you go out to play on the court you can win. And although the selection was not close in terms of the final score, it was a contender during the 40 minutes of its two games played and showed that it could surprise at any moment.

Asking for Casiano’s resignation, this for the second tournament in a row – Barea had asked for it last February – is unfair, from my perspective.

Casiano has been in front of the team for five years and has guided the team to achieve all their goals tournament by tournament except qualifying for Tokyo 2020, which, let’s be honest, was a dream this year. But before, there are medals in Centrobasket Tournaments, Central American and Pan American Games, as well as qualification to the last World Cup and the pass to the second round of the tournament, something that had not been achieved since 2002 in Indianapolis.

To think that Puerto Rico has not made it to Tokyo 2020 is because of Casiano is petty. And not recognizing what the National Team, its 12 players, its technical staff and its support team did in every game in Serbia is unfair.

Therefore, for me, a standing applause for Casiano, his assistants, and his 12 engaged. And to work to achieve the goal in Paris 2024.