Team-captain Akeem Scott nearly cried on the court while a joyful team-mate slung his arms around him. What has happened before was an emotional rollercoaster-ride thanks to a comfortable lead that melted faster away than ice-cream in the hot Puerto Rico-sun in their do-or-die game against the Mexicans. But when the buzzer finally came and streaky Victor Mariscal missed his shot, the Jamaicans secured a spot at the Americas Championships next year for the first time ever.
It didn’t’ end there with the 76-74 win as Team JA even beat Panama for bronze and travelled back to Jamaica with their first medal in this tournament. The country’s media, which is solely about cricket and track, did their best to cover the nations’ outcome in Puerto Rico and the Jamaicans may have a new sport that they can turn to lately.
Expectations prior to the tournament were as high as in 2010 when they welcomed Roy Hibbert in the team but had not the services of NBA-experienced Samardo Samuels, Jerome Jordan and Patrick Ewing Jr.
The difference this time was the depth of the roster compared to the one in 2010 although they had less options on the guard positions this year with Scott and Ennis being the only true guards together with Weyinmi Rose on the roster.
JABA’s president Ajani Williams hoped to get as well NBA All-Star Roy Hibbert on board for Puerto Rico but Hibbert, who left the Dominican Republic during the Centrobasket 2010 with a minor injury, suddenly declared that he wanted to play for the United States in this year’s Olympics instead of re-joining the team.
The 7-2 foot-tall center might not be eligible to play for the United States at all since FIBA has to grant him a waiver as their rules stipulate that there is no change of a national-team on a senior-level. If FIBA allows it, which has happened rarely in the last decade (Vasco Evtimov and Ermal Kuqo are examples), Hibbert won’t be part of the U.S. team this year and his next chance to play in the Olympics will be in four years from now.
Without Hibbert however, the Jamaicans did very well and reached finally the next level, although Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic proved to be too strong for the Caribbean nation but beating Mexico in a crucial game and also topping Panama should give other players of Jamaican-descent the motivation to try-out for next year’s team as well.
Maybe even Roy Hibbert is coming back after his sky-rocketing to stardom lately might have blurred his view. The doors are still open for him, according to Williams.
Young guns like Dylan Ennis, who surprisingly came out of nowhere to play a solid tournament, and forward Vashil Fernandez are two out of many young Jamaicans who are currently playing and studying in the U.S. and could be contributing even more a few years from now. Just recently, the JABA added NBA- Draftee Ryan Richards to their extended roster. Richards has represented Great Britain before, so it has to be seen if FIBA allows the switch as Richards already played seven games for the Britons before. All in all, Team JA could become a household name in the Americas in the next years when it comes to medals and championships. After investing a lot of time and money into their basketball program, Ajani Williams and his staff must be sitting in their offices in Jamaica and whoever is going to visit them won’t be able to overlook a bride smile on their faces.