Hall of Famer Rick Pitino will coach Puerto Rico’s men’s basketball team as it hopes to qualify for its first Olympics since 2004.
Pitino, 62 and the current Louisville coach, will guide the Puerto Ricans at the Pan American Games in Toronto in July and, more importantly for Olympic qualification, at FIBA Americas in Monterrey, Mexico, in August and September.
At Athens 2004, Puerto Rico crushed the U.S. 92-73 in the Americans’ most lopsided loss in Olympic or World Championships history. Puerto Rico, which has never won an Olympic basketball medal, ended up losing in the quarterfinals.
Two Olympic berths are available at FIBA Americas this summer. The U.S. is already qualified, and Brazil is likely to be given a spot in the Rio 2016 tournament as host nation, so Puerto Rico shouldn’t have to worry about either of those nations.
Instead, it should be fighting for an Olympic spot with 2004 Olympic champion Argentina, upstart Canada, the Dominican Republic (with Al Horford, potentially) and host Mexico.
Puerto Rico could field a roster including players with NBA experience, namely J.J. Barea, Renaldo Balkman, Daniel Santiago and Carlos Arroyo.
If it doesn’t finish in the top two at FIBA Americas, Puerto Rico could get another chance to make it to Rio via a last-chance global qualifying tournament in 2016.