Sports

It’s as tough as it gets for Team Bahamas

The Bahamas needs to get ready for high-level basketball – probably the highest level of basketball ever witnessed in The Bahamas.

Team Bahamas has been drawn into Group D of the 2021 FIBA (International Basketball Federation) AmeriCup Qualifiers with the United States (US), Puerto Rico and Mexico, and will play home and away games against those three nations starting in February of 2020.

The draw ceremony for the qualifiers took place on Tuesday at the historic Coliseo Roberto Clemente in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Team Bahamas will have its toughest task in men’s basketball to date.

The US has won 15 of the 18 Olympic gold medals it contested, the past two FIBA World Cups, and is the undisputed number one team in the world with superstar players at every position. Mexico is ranked at number 14, and Puerto Rico is at number 16. The Bahamas is ranked at number 59 in the world according to the FIBA World Rankings presented by Nike, and has never beaten the US, Puerto Rico or Mexico in men’s basketball on the senior side.

“We realize this is a tough draw for us. We just have to go out there and play basketball to the best of our ability,” said Bahamas Basketball Federation (BBF) President Mario Bowleg. “We have come close to beating Mexico and Puerto Rico on the senior side so we’re quite confident that with our best team, we stand a chance of beating both of those teams. Right now, the United States has their NBA (National Basketball Association) G League players playing at this level, so hopefully for us, that is an opportunity to go in there and sneak a game from them. We have to look at each country and each bracket separately. We have to look at the players who they bring on the court to play in each window. Each country will not be able to present their best players at all times so we have to be mindful about that. We will be looking to do the best that we could do.”

It certainly is a formidable challenge for new head coach of the senior men’s national program, Chris DeMarco of the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors assistant coach served as the assistant coach of Team Bahamas under Bowleg during the recent FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, and took over the national program in June. For the 2021 FIBA AmeriCup Qualifiers, DeMarco will be assisted by Norris Bain out of Freeport, Grand Bahama, Kevin Johnson out of Nassau and American Steve Barnes.

“We have a chance. We are going to have to get our better players to join the program. If we could get some size on the inside and some of our better players to play, then I really like our chances,” said Bain.

After securing the job in June, DeMarco expressed optimism regarding the plight of Team Bahamas. He knows that the ultimate goal is to qualify for the world cup and the Olympics, and he is committed to doing what he can to get The Bahamas to that level. The Bahamas would almost certainly have to utilize the services of NBA players DeAndre Ayton and Chavano “Buddy” Hield to stand any chance of pulling off an upset in the qualifiers. Understandably, with them being in season, they will not be available for the first window of the qualifiers in February 2020.

“My coaching experience at the world cup qualifiers last summer allowed me to see first-hand how skilled, passionate and tough-minded the Bahamian players are. As a group, they’re very high-character individuals on and off the court,” said DeMarco. “The combination of our talented players along with the program’s strong staff makes this job extremely attractive. There are the NBA players, and then there are plenty of highly-skilled players from The Bahamas who are not currently playing in the NBA. Whether they’re competing overseas, in college basketball, or at the high school level, it is our job to find the most talented athletes available. It will be important for us going forward to identify the players who give us the best chance to compete and ultimately win the biggest tournaments.”

FIBA’s new home and away series will allow for some of the best players in this region to come to The Bahamas for basketball. All 16 national federations will have a chance to host high-quality games, thereby activating local markets and increasing popularity and excitement among the fans.

The 2021 FIBA AmeriCup Qualifiers will begin in February 2020 and will qualify the top 12 teams to the 2021 FIBA AmeriCup. In Group A are Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Venezuela. Group B will include Brazil, Uruguay, Panama and Paraguay, and Group C will be inclusive of Cuba, Canada, the Dominican Republic and the US Virgin Islands. Once again, in Group D with The Bahamas are the US, Puerto Rico and Mexico. The 16 teams include the 12 teams from the second round of the 2019 FIBA AmeriCup qualifiers plus the four teams that advanced from the 2021 FIBA AmeriCup pre-qualifiers. They are grouped according to geographical locations. All of the teams in South America and one from Central America are grouped together, and the final two pools feature teams from North America and the Caribbean.

The FIBA AmeriCup is regarded as the most important continental competition for FIBA in the Americas region. The 2021 tournament is a qualifier for the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

“This is a great journey toward our mission of developing the game of basketball,” said Executive Director of FIBA Americas Carlos Alves during the draw yesterday. “We are going to unleash the top talent in this region and create a sustainable equity system for basketball that will elevate the quality of the game.”

Past president of FIBA Americas and current treasurer Usie Richards stressed the importance of governmental and corporate support.

“I just want to emphasize that we recognize the importance that this sport will not be able to play the significant role it does within our national federations without the support of governments and corporate citizens. We offer our sincere thanks to the major entities that support basketball in this region,” he said.

Bowleg is excited about the level of competition that will be on display during the qualifiers and remains optimistic about the chances of Team Bahamas.

“This shows that FIBA has moved to the next level. The new format allows countries to see their national teams play against the best players on this side of the world as it should be,” said Bowleg. “This has taken basketball to the next level. It’s going to be tough for us in The Bahamas but we’re just going to have to find a way to get the job done. We will do our endeavor best to ensure that in each window, we are able to put forward the best team that is possible, to give us the best opportunity to win. That’s all that we could do. Nothing is impossible. We strongly believe that if we bring our best team in each window, we will have a chance, and if the games are close, we could pull off an upset against Mexico, Puerto Rico or even the United States.”

All of the games in the qualifiers will be streamed live online.

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Sheldon Longley

Sheldon Longley joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2001 as a sports reporter. He was promoted to sports editor in 2008. Sheldon has an extensive background in sports reporting. He covered three Olympic Games and three world championships, along with multiple smaller regional and local games.

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