Aug. 22, 2007 — Members of the V.I. senior men's basketball national team have been practicing hard over the last two weeks in preparation for the biggest tournament of their lives.
The team has even gone out to look for stiff competition in Atlanta, Ga. Over the past weekend, the team participated in the Southern Roundball Classic in preparation for the 2007 FIBA Americas championship.
The V.I team opens the tourney on Thursday when they take on the number one team in the world, the United States. The game will be broadcast live at 11 p.m. on ESPN Classic.
The Virgin Islands, ranked 38th in the world, must also face Canada (ranked 16th) on Friday at 6 p.m., followed by Brazil (17) on Saturday at 6 p.m. (NBA TV), and closes out the first round versus Venezuela (21) on Sunday at 4 p.m. (NBA TV).
"Although it doesn't matter what group you are in, we seem to be in a tougher group," said the V.I. head men's basketball coach, Tevester Anderson. "Most of the teams in our group have current or former NBA players on their roster."
Anderson also spoke about V.I. involvement in the championship.
"It's an honor for us to be involved in the FIBA Championships, and I am happy for the players and for our (territory) to be taking part in such a prestigious tournament. We have worked very hard to reach this point, and must prepare to do our best when we get there."
Pool A has Argentina (2), Puerto Rico (13), Panama (29), Uruguay (30) and Mexico (34).
The top four finishers in each pool advance to the second round of the tournament.
The tournament's gold and silver medalists earn qualifying spots in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Teams that finish third through fifth overall will have a second chance to qualify for Beijing. They'll play in a 12-team qualifying tournament in July 2008 that will determine the final three teams for the Olympics.
A team with a definite New York City look full of tremendous athletes, all of whom have experience in U.S. colleges, most at the NCAA Division 1 level. The Virgin Islands qualified for the Tournament of the Americas last summer, clinching a spot after arguably the biggest win in V.I. history, an 85-84 upset of Puerto Rico, who had NBAer Carlos Arroyo in the lineup. The Virgin Islands has produced several NBAers, including Raja Bell and, of course, Tim Duncan, none of whom will be in their lineup.
However, there are several solid players that will make this team very difficult to play against. 6'2" Carl Krauser, who was a three-year starter at Pitt, graduating in 2006, and Captain Kevin Sheppard will lead the team from the back court. Krauser is one of at least four V.I. players who played high school basketball in New York. Krauser played in Germany last season.
Other wing players who should see time in the rotation include 6'5" Jason Edwin, who played at Kent State and has spent the past few seasons playing in Germany. Defensive wiz Stephen Hodge is also on the roster, along with 6'3" youngster Kaylen Gregory, who is entering his junior year at Marist University.
Up front, the team will look to 6'9" Frank Elegar, who is entering his senior year at Drexel, where he led the team in scoring, rebounding and field-goal percentage last season after a stellar high school career at Bronx St. Raymond's. Forward Jameel Heywood, a six-year pro from Oklahoma, averaged 19.1 points per game in the Puerto Rican professional league last season.
Another Bronx St. Raymond's product, 6'10" Kitwana Rhymer, is still plying his trade in China, while 6'11" post Jaja Richards will give the team another big body along with 6'8" Omari Peterkin. He recently graduated from Boston University, where he was named third team all conference.
On the wing, look for 6'6" Cuthbert Victor and 6'7" Akeem Francis to add depth up front.
The Virgin Islands will look to push the tempo, push up on teams defensively and run and get to the rim. The team is coming off a stellar effort in qualifying, and this is their big summer event, so expect them to be solid.
Tevester Anderson is head coach of the V.I. Senior Team. Serving as assistant coaches are former UCLA taskmaster Jim Harrick and Central High Coach Donald Bough.
Key Eligible Players: Leandro Barbosa, G, Phoenix Suns (NBA); Nene, C, Denver Nuggets; Alex Garcia, G, Universo/BRB (Brazil); Marcelinho Machado, F, Zalgiris (Lithuania); Tiago Splitter, F/C, Tau Ceramica (Spain).
The Skinny: Brazil was disappointing in the 2006 FIBA World Championship, finishing just 1-4 and failing to advance past the preliminary round. It did, however, play without the services of NBA center Nene. Even with as much talent as Brazil has had in recent years, it's been two decades since they've achieved anything significant in the realm of international basketball. Nevertheless, their depth up front — Nene, JP Batista and Splitter — will be trouble for opponents in this tournament. The presence of Barbosa, a true difference-maker who's having a career year with the Suns, could spell an upset against Team USA or Argentina.
Brazil won the Turo Marchand Cup last week, held in Puerto Rico.
Key Eligible Players: Samuel Dalambert, C, Philadelphia Sixers; David Thomas, G, Michigan State (NCAA)/Melbourne K-mart Tigers (Australia); Carl English, G, Hawaii (NCAA)/ KK Zadar (Croatia); Levon Kendall, F, Pittsburgh (NCAA); Denham Brown, G, UConn (NCAA)/Tulsa 66ers (NBADL).
The Skinny: Steve Nash is retired from the Canadian National Team, and it's a different era for the squad, which relied so heavily on Nash's contributions for more than a decade. Canada now fields a markedly younger team that will pin its hopes on the efforts of players like English, who has been in training camp with the Indiana Pacers; Kendall, who once scored 40 points against the United States in Junior National Team play; and Brown, a 2006 draft pick of the Sonics who has spent his rookie year in the D-League.
Canada also got an unexpected player in Philadelphia 76er Samuel Dalambert. The Haitian became a Canadian citizen several weeks ago, and has energized the hopefuls. The 6-11 center led the Canadian team to a 2-1 record in the Tuto Marchand Cup played in Puerto Rico last week.
Key Eligible Players: Carmelo Anthony, F, Denver Nuggets; Chauncey Billups, G, Detroit Pistons; Kobe Bryant, G, Los Angeles Lakers; Dwight Howard, C, Orlando Magic; LeBron James, F, Cleveland Cavaliers; Michael Redd, G, Milwaukee Bucks; Amare Stoudemire, C, Phoenix Suns; Jason Kidd, G, New Jersey Nets; Deron Williams, G, Utah; Mike Miller, G, Memphis; Tayshun Prince, F, Detroit Pistons; Tyson Chandler, C, New Orleans Hornets.
The Skinny: Team USA would have liked to have secured an automatic bid to the Olympic Games with a Gold Medal in Japan last summer, but a loss to Greece in the semifinals ended that hope. Instead, it will have to qualify with a top-two finish in the FIBA Americas Championship this summer. Or, should it finish in places 3-5, at the World Olympic Qualifying Tournament in July 2008.
The United States has competed in three of the last four FIBA Americas championships, which have been used to determine the Olympic representatives for the Americas zone. Team USA has compiled a perfect 26-0 record in those three competitions, claiming gold medals in 1992, 1999 and 2003. Already qualified for the Olympics as the host country in 1996, the United States did not participate in the 1995 FIBA Americas Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
As the United States continues its goal to prove its supremacy at the international level, make no mistake about it: players like Bryant, James and Stoudemire will be playing with a chip on their shoulders in Las Vegas.
Key Eligible Players: Oscar Torres, G, CSKA Moscow (Russia); Miguel Marriaga, F, Gaiteros (Vene
zuela); Hector Romero F/C; Greivis Vasquez, G, Maryland; David Cubillan, G, Marquette.
The Skinny: Though they aren't a basketball powerhouse, Venezuela finished third in the 2005 Tournament of Americas and fifth in 2003. Either of those finishes this year would keep them alive in the hunt for an Olympic berth. In the 2006 FIBA World Championship, Venezuela went 1-4, as it lacked the talent to compete with the world's best teams.
The Venezuelan Basketball Federation is in the process of making the national team a lot younger. They have said goodbye to stalwarts David Diaz and Richard Lugo, and have introduced a full slate of young talent. A couple of freshmen who helped their teams to NCAA tournament berths this year — point guard Greivis Vasquez of Maryland and three-point shooter David Cubillan of Marquette — will be the keys to a revamped roster.
With the young talent in tow, Venezuela was unable to pick up a win in the 2007 Stankovic Cup. The team lost all five games played, falling to China 64-62, Angola 94-54, D-League Ambassadors 89-80, Slovenia 88-68 and New Zealand 76-73.
V.I. TV Schedule on ESPN Classic or NBA TV
Friday: USA vs. Virgin Islands, 11 p.m. on ESPN Classic (replayed Saturday on NBA TV at noon)
Saturday: Canada vs. Virgin Islands, 1 a.m. (to be played Friday), NBA TV
Saturday: Virginia Islands vs. Brazil 6 p.m., NBA TV
Sunday: Venezuela vs. Virgin Islands 4 p.m., NBA TV
2007 Quick Roster
6-0, Kevin Sheppard, Guard, Jacksonville University
6-2, Carl Krauser, Guard, Pittsburgh University
6-3, Kaylen Gregory, Guard, Marist University
6-5, Jason Edwin, Guard, Kent State University
6-0, Stephen Hodge, Guard, Edward Waters
6-6, Cuthbert Victor, Forward/Guard, Murray State
6-7, Akeem Francis, Forward/Guard, Columbus State
6-6, Jameel Heywood, Forward, Oklahoma University
6-9, Frank Elegar, Forward, Drexel University
6-8, Omari Peterkin, Forward/Center, Boston University
6-10, Kit Rhymer, Forward/Center, Umass
6-11, Ja Ja Richards, Center, Loyola Chicago
Coach Tevester Anderson, Jackson State
Assoc Coach: James Harrick, formerly of UCLA
Asst. Coach: Donald Bough, Central High
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