The Argentine basketball team’s bond with the Olympics in this 21st century is as strong as it is exciting. An unbreakable relationship from 2004 to 2021. A glorious journey from Athens to Beijing, from the capital of China to London, from Great Britain to Rio de Janeiro, from Brazil to Tokyo.
It has already become a habit, but getting to the Olympics is a very complicated task. Only 12 teams. Only 2 from America are classified directly. We have to go back to the last century to find Argentina’s last absence in the men’s Olympic basketball tournament.
“For the 1999 FIBA Americas we had some resignations, with which I decided to call Luis Scola for the senior team. So he asked me for a meeting and explained that although his main objective was to play for the senior team, this time he preferred to go to the U19 World Cup in Portugal, since it was the last time he could play with his teammates. He clarified that he would accept the decision that I made. I thought about it for a few minutes and told him that the national team needed him, that several from the Melbourne Under 22 World Cup squad in which he had participated were going to join the team and that this was the right time. I was struck by how a 19-year-old young man had handled the situation with so much personality to explain what he thought, the maturity with which he had faced it, the ways, education and fundamentals with which he had done it and that he also had the discipline to accept the coach’s decision. Later, Luis made an extraordinary contribution, he played an excellent tournament, as did the whole team that got the bronze medal ”. In this way, Julio Lamas remembers, more than twenty years later, the first time he summoned Luis Scola to play a Tournament of the Americas.
That 19-year-old Luis Scola, who scored 6 points in 23 minutes in the defeat against Canada on July 14, 1999, in the debut of that Pre-Olympic, is the only player who suffered the impotence of not being able to qualify and still continues today in the Argentine team. Why remember the opening match of that tournament played in San Juan de Puerto Rico? Because it was the one that condemned Argentina to face the United States in the semifinals, the instance that delivered the two tickets to Sydney 2000. The United States, with a roster full of stars, sentenced the aspirations of that young Argentine team led by Lamas.
From there, both Scola and Argentina always gave the present at the Olympic Games. Two medals, one gold and one bronze, a fourth place and a quarter-final loss to the United States with tears for the farewells of Manu Ginobili and Chapu Nocioni, are the reflection of a brilliant path.
All in all guys! 👊🏼😀
The Selection begins to move in the Olympic Village ahead of the debut on 26 against Slovenia. 🏀🔜
– CAB (@cabboficial) July 19, 2021
Now what happens? Argentina is in Tokyo with the fresh memory of the world runner-up in China 2019. Sergio Hernández, who will be the head coach for the third time in an Olympic competition, repeated 9 of the 12 World Cup players: Facundo Campazzo, Nicolás Laprovittola, Luca Vildoza, Nicolás Brussino, Patricio Garino, Gabriel Deck, Luis Scola, Marcos Delía and Tayavek Gallizzi. The three that renew the squad are Leandro Bolmaro, Juan Pablo Vaulet and Francisco Cáffaro.
For Scola it will be his fifth Olympic Games. Campazzo will play them for the third time. Of the other 7 of the last World Cup, only Vildoza and Gallizzi were not in Rio 2016. Vaulet played just 4 official matches in the senior national team, while for Bolmaro and Cáffaro it will be his debut in the senior team.
What can you expect from Argentina in Tokyo? The flag is the collective game: defensive pressure, search for quick attacks or in transition and reading of the game. With these premises he won the silver medal in the World Cup. Hernández’s plan focuses on intensifying and improving those aspects.
The individual pillars of the Argentine game will once again be the leadership of Campazzo, the freshness and explosion of Vildoza and Laprovittola, the multifaceted contribution of Deck and Garino, the distance launch of Brussino, the presence of Delía near the boards and the always inexhaustible point source which is Scola. Bolmaro is the new face that can revolutionize the team’s walk.
Is that combo enough to advance in the Olympics? It is a very difficult question to answer. One thing is clear: the difficulty of this competition is greater than that of the World Cup. And the margin of error should be kept to a minimum. Argentina makes their debut against Luka Doncic’s Esolvenia in the complicated Group C. Then, they will face Spain, their winner in the final of China 2019. And they will close their participation in the initial phase against local Japan, led by Lamas, the prestigious coach Argentinian.
Slovenia is much more than just Doncic. An exquisite team game, which even improves when the Dallas Mavericks star rests, led the last European champion to win the Kaunas Olympic Qualification and thus leave organizer Lithuania on the way. Vlatko Čančar, Campazzo’s teammate in the Denver Nuggets, Zoran Dragić, Goran’s younger brother (Miami Heat point guard) and Klemen Prepelič are the main cards of the Balkan team that will participate for the first time in the Olympic Games.
Spain will present an even better team than the one that became world champion. Pau Gasol and Sergio Rodríguez joined the team that already featured figures such as Ricky Rubio, Sergio Llull, Rudy Fernández, Marc Gasol and the brothers Willy and Juancho Hernangómez. Those led by Scariolo dream of winning the first gold medal in its history in the discipline after taking the silver in 1984, 2008 and 2012 and the bronze in 2016.
Japan is, in theory, the weakest selected of the group. However, since the arrival of Lamas the Asian team raised their level. A small sample of that is the victory against France in one of the friendlies prior to the Games. Rui Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe, the two NBA players on the team, are the undisputed referents of the team.
The competition system indicates that the first two of each group and the two best third parties will qualify for the quarterfinals. Although it seems like a possible mission for Argentina, in order not to depend on other people’s results, it should obtain two victories in the first phase. After the group instance, the quarterfinal duels will be raffled without the possibility of two teams that would have shared a group face off. With this panorama, the selected one of Oveja Hernández could cross with the United States, Nigeria, Australia (lost in front of the three in its preparation in Las Vegas), Iran, France, Italy, Germany or the Czech Republic.
Is Argentina looking for a place on the podium? “Setting a result as an objective would be to contaminate the road. We have very clear that winning or losing does not depend only on us. I wish it were so, because we would be world champions: we are serious, we train and we have commitment. What does depend on us is the I play and there we cannot fail, “Hernández said in an exclusive interview with ESPN.com and that perfectly sums up the mentality with which Argentina will face its fifth consecutive Olympic Games.