Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Pan-Am Games Group B Preview

The Pan-Am Games men's basketball competition is stuffed into a short, 5-day, 5-game tournament in which 8 teams are divided into 2 groups and, after the first 3 games, the top 2 teams from each group qualify for the championship semi-finals on Day 4 with the Gold medal game going the next day. Canada gets things started in Brazil on Wednesday at 12:15 PM eastern, kicking off Group B action against Puerto Rico. The other two teams in Group B: Brazil and US Virgin Islands collide later on Wednesday. All 3 of Canada's preliminary round opponents have talented rosters dotted with NBA players, NBA draftees, European professionals and/or players with NCAA Division 1 experience. Here is a preview of the 3 teams Canada will face in Group B.

PUERTO RICO: Canada's first game at the Pan-Am Games against Puerto Rico qualifies as a virtual "must-win" right from the start with hosts Brazil and athletic US Virgin Islands looming on Thursday and Friday. Puerto Rico has had several solid results internationally including a 92-73 victory over the star-studded USA at the 2004 Olympics in Greece. Puerto Rico is also preparing for the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifier in Las Vegas in August and their Pan-Am team should have at least 7 players who should push for rosters spots in Vegas including 6'3" Rick Apodaca (Hofstra) who has plenty of international experience, 6'6" wing Joel Jones (Sacremento State), who also has made plenty of international stop since graduating from college, 5'11" Jose Juan Barea (Northeastern), one of the top players to graduate from the Boston school who played in 33 games with the Dallas Mavericks this past season and is said to have a bright NBA future, 6'11" power forward Ricky Sanchez, who was drafted in the second round of the NBA draft in 2005, committing to the draft after forgoing a scholarship to the University of Memphis, 6'8" Angelo Reyes (JUCO/Miami Tropics ABA), 6'10" Manuel Narvaez (Southern Nazarene U.-NAIA/bounced around ABA) and 6'7" Carmelo Lee (Long Beach State) who also has international experience. To our knowledge, Puerto Rico will not have stars Carlos Arroyo, Daniel Santiago and Peter John Ramos at this competition.

BRAZIL: The Brazilians are the two-time defending champions of the Pan-Am Games basketball event and are hosting with the hope of making it three in a row. Their roster is dotted with players who have played and/or have been drafted by NBA teams as well as several familiar names to fans following NCAA basketball. This particular group will not have some of the true stars of Brazilian basketball such as Leandro Barbosa of the Phoenix Suns but will nonetheless be very formidable, especially in front of their home country fans. 6'8" wing forward Marcus Vinicius, who played in 13 games for the New Orleans Hornets this past season, is likely to be one of Brazil's feature players. 6'4" veteran Marcelo Machado "Marcelinho" is a deadly three-point shooter while 6'3" Alex Garcia, who has had cups of coffee with both San Antonio and New Orleans of the NBA, is another gunner who can stretch defenses. Another powerful young wing is 6'9" Marcus deSouza, who was drafted #43 overall by New Orleans in the 2006 NBA draft should complement Vinicius on the wing up front. In the post, Brazil offers 6'9" J.P. Batista, who was a stalward inside for Gonzaga during their NCAA tournament run a couple of years ago and 6'10" Guilherme Teichmann, who played two seasons at the University of Tulsa. Unfortunately, Brazil has already suffered a set back as 6'9" Rafael Hettsheimeir, who played in the 2006 Nike Hoop Summit and is regarded as a marginal NBA prospect by some, will be out 4-6 weeks with a bad ankle sprain and will miss the Pan-Am Games. Hettsheimer will be replaced by 6'10" Paulao Prestes in the Brazilian lineup. Prestes was Brazil's leading scorer and rebounder at the recently completed FIBA U19 world championships, averaging 23 points and 14.7 rebounds per game including a 31 point effort against the gold medal winning Serbians in the semi-finals. Prestes was the major reason for Brazil's fourth place finish in the tournament. The squad will be head coached by Aloisio Ferreira.

U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS: A team with a definite New York City look full of tremendous athletes, all of whom have experience in U.S. college, most at the NCAA Division 1 level, the U.S. Virgin Islands qualified for the Pan-Am Games at a tournament last summer, clinching a spot after arguably the biggest win in U.S. Virgin Islands history, an 85-84 upset of Puerto Rico, who had NBAer Carlos Arroyo in the lineup. The U.S. Virgin Islands has produced 3 NBAers, Speedy Claxton, Raja Bell and, of course, Tim Duncan, none of whom will be in their Pan-Am Games lineup. However, there are several solid players which will make this team very difficult to play against. 6'2" Carl Krauser, who was a three-year starter at Pitt, graduating in 2006, will lead the team from the backcourt. Krauser, who is one of at least 3 US VI players who graduated from the storied St. Raymond's H.S. program in the Bronx, New York, 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 also playing in Germany, 6'2" Kevin Sheppard (Jacksonville '03), who is also playing in Europe and 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. As well, center Jameel Heywood, a 6 year pro from Oklahoma (graduated in 2001), averaged 19.1 points per game in the Puerto Rican professional league last season. Another Bronx St. Raymond's product, 6'10" Kitwana Rhymer (UMass '02), is still plying his trade in the NBA Development League. On the wing, look for 6'3" Carl Thomas (College of Charleston '98) is best known for scoring 20 points as C of C upset North Carolina in 1998. Two other forwards with NCAA Division 1 experience, 6'6" Cuthbert Victor (Murray State '04) and 6'8" Akeem Francis (Columbus State, NCAA Division II), add depth up front. The US Virgin Islands should be a team that will look to push the tempo, push up on teams defensively and look to run and get to the rim. The group is coming off a stellar effort in qualifying and this is their big summer event so expect them to be solid.

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