Al Horford

Andrew Wiggins
AP

Canada-Venezuela, Argentina-Mexico for Olympic men’s basketball spots

Leave a comment

Canada can clinch its first Olympic men’s basketball berth since 2000 on Friday, while Argentina could qualify for its fourth straight Olympics.

Canada, led by NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, faces Venezuela in Mexico City in the FIBA Americas semifinals at 7 p.m. ET.

Argentina, which has played the U.S. in the last three Olympic semifinals, faces Mexico at 9:30 p.m.

The winners of both games will join the 2014 World champion U.S., Brazil, Australia and Nigeria in the Rio Olympic men’s basketball field that will eventually include 12 teams.

The losers will get another chance to make the Olympics at a global, last-chance qualifying tournament in July, one month before the Games.

Canada last played in the Olympics in 2000 with Steve Nash, who is now retired. It went 6-1 in preliminary play at FIBA Americas, beating Venezuela 82-62 last Thursday, and has several NBA players on its team, including Wiggins, Cory Joseph, Anthony Bennett and Nik Stauskas.

Venezuela, with no NBA players on its roster, squeaked into the semifinals by going 3-4 in preliminary play. Its previous Olympic appearance came in 1992.

Argentina, the last team to beat the U.S. at the Olympics and the 2004 gold medalist, went 6-1 in preliminary play despite not having stalwart Manu Ginobili, who has said he is likely done playing in international competition. Its team is led by 2004 Olympic champions Luis Scola and Andres Nocioni.

Mexico, which hasn’t qualified for an Olympic basketball tournament since 1976, also went 6-1 and has one NBA player on its team, Milwaukee Bucks backup point guard Jorge Gutierrez.

Mexico beat Argentina 95-83 on Wednesday night, setting up Friday’s rematch.

Puerto Rico, which also beat the U.S. at the 2004 Olympics, finished fifth at FIBA Americas and also advanced to the global, last-chance qualifying tournament.

The Dominican Republic, which played in three winner-goes-to-London games in 2012 Olympic qualifying and lost them all, finished sixth and will not advance automatically to the last-chance tournament, though there are wild-card spots available. Atlanta Hawks All-Star and Dominican Al Horford skipped FIBA Americas.

MORE BASKETBALL: Five Olympic questions with Steve Nash

Al Horford: Canada the team to beat in Olympic qualifying

Al Horford
Leave a comment

At this summer’s FIBA Americas, a nation that has not reached an Olympic men’s basketball tournament in more than a decade will almost surely qualify for Rio 2016.

The two finalists at FIBA Americas in Monterrey, Mexico, will be part of a 12-team 2016 Olympic field.

The U.S. clinched a spot in the Rio Olympics by winning the 2014 World Cup and does not have to play at FIBA Americas.

Brazil, as host nation, is likely to earn automatic entry into the Olympic tournament, too, though that decision hasn’t been made yet.

That leaves Argentina as the only other nation in the Americas to have qualified for either of the last two Olympics. But even if Argentina wins FIBA Americas in September, the other finalist would also go to Rio.

That’s a big opportunity for Puerto Rico (last in the Olympics in 2004), Canada (last in the Olympics in 2000), Mexico (last in the Olympics in 1976) and the Dominican Republic, which has never been to the Games and lost three winner-goes-to-London contests in 2012 Olympic qualifying.

Al Horford led the Dominican Republic to the semifinals of the 2011 FIBA Americas against Brazil, with the winner clinching an Olympic berth. Brazil prevailed, 83-76.

Horford and the Dominican Republic then went to a last-chance global Olympic qualifying tournament in Venezuela, less than a month before the London Games. The top three nations there clinched Olympic berths.

The Dominican Republic, then with John Calipari coaching, lost its semifinal to Lithuania and its third-place game to Nigeria.

“We were close, we won a couple good games there, but we couldn’t get to that next level,” Horford said while in New York for the NBA All-Star Game last week. “It’s a great opportunity, what’s ahead.”

Horford hasn’t yet committed to playing in this year’s FIBA Americas, choosing to focus on his Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks’ season for now. The NBA Finals are in June. FIBA Americas starts Aug. 25 and ends Sept. 6. The Hawks’ preseason training camp began on Sept. 30 last year.

The Dominican Republic has never qualified for an Olympic men’s basketball tournament, but the hopes are high this time around. Not only is the qualifying path easier, but the team may also be stronger.

Without Horford, the Dominican Republic was one of five Americas nations to reach the round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup (U.S., Brazil, Argentina, Mexico).

Its World Cup roster included recognizable college basketball names from the previous decade — Francisco Garcia and Edgar Sosa (Louisville) and Eloy Vargas (Kentucky). It did not include NBA veteran Charlie Villanueva, who played at the 2011 FIBA Americas with Horford.

Horford sees Canada as the team to beat at FIBA Americas, though.

“They should definitely be, probably, the favorite, honestly,” Horford said last week.

Canada, under the tutelage of general manager Steve Nash, could earn its first trip to the Olympics since 2000 (when Nash played).

Canada was sixth at each of the last two FIBA Americas, failing to qualify for the 2014 FIBA World Cup, but it has a wealth of young talent, including the last two No. 1 picks in the NBA Draft — Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins – as well as 2014 first-round picks Nik Stauskas and Tyler Ennis and NBA big men Tristan Thompson and Kelly Olynyk.

Three takeaways from World Alpine Skiing Championships