OFFICIAL VOICE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CUBA CENTRAL COMMITTEE
The historic rivalry between Ciego de Ávila and the Capitalinos of Havana contributes to developing new basketball talents in these areas. Photo: Jose M. Correa

The sound of basket balls reverberating off Cuban courts recently ceased when the curtain closed on the Superior Basketball League (LSB) season with Ciego de Ávila winning their ninth crown in the men’s division with a 4-0 victory over longstanding rivals, the Capitalinos of Havana, while Pinar del Río reclaimed their title in the women’s competition.

This is yet more indisputable proof that the Ciego de Ávila Búfalos continue to be the best five-player team in the country since the competition structure changed in the 2004-2005 season; with the same going for Pinar del Río’s female squad, featuring point guard Arlenis Romero, shooting guard Anisleydis Galindo, forward Arlety Povea and center Anay García, all members of the pre-selection national team.

In Ciego de Avila’s case, the team has three formidable players with over five years experience playing for the men’s national squad; these are point guard, Yasser Rodríguez, shooting guard, William Granda and center, Yoan Luis Haití, the latter two with additional experience competing in Argentina and for Atlético Tabaré in Uruguay’s Basketball League (Haití).

Although it may seem that our basketball championship currently lacks the quality seen in the 90s, the Promotion Tournament and League itself continue to fulfill their function of discovering and developing young talent, giving players the opportunity to gain more experience, and later incorporate the top players into the eight Superior League teams.

CHALLENGES AND PROSPECTS

There are many issues hampering the development of what is considered the second most popular spectator sport in the country. Let’s look at the men’s final for example. The Capitalinos - with a legion of young and talented players - faced the experienced and brutal Ciego de Ávila team, accustomed to the pressure of decisive games, whose opening quintet and several reserves have over five years of experience playing together. In truth, none of the Capitalinos’ five players who savored the sweet taste of victory in the previous edition featured in the team’s final line-up: point guard Yosmel Zequeira, shooting guard Lisván Valdés, centers Orestes Torres and Jasiel Rivero were all competing abroad at the time, while Alen Jemmott was unable to play due to personal circumstances, absences which in no way justify their defeat, with new committed and talented players seen in this year’s competition.

As such player absences represent one of our league’s biggest weaknesses - just like in other disciplines – with the season interrupted so athletes can compete in International events, or at least the region’s FIBA championships, which saw the national men’s team complete for the first time last year in the Americas Basketball Champions League.

In this sense another important consideration is the fact that although the level of contracted players’ improves, they also are also exposed to different approaches, game plays, tactical situations and training structures, all of which positively impact their subsequent performance with the national selection, however it is also worth highlighting that absences of the best male and female players notably cripples the quality of our League, with two breaks in the regular competition calendar in this year’s edition alone.

Another questionable feature of the current championship has been the disappearance of the All Star Games, skills competitions and three-a-side match ups that were previously held, not always, but often, in the Ciudad Deportiva or Ramón Fonst Multipurpose Sports Hall. With the arrival of new talents and growth of the sport worldwide, it may be worth brining back these events in order to win new fans, as well as raise the quality of the sporting event as a whole, especially in regards to half time shows – a custom for almost over 10 years now.

Ensuring that the Basketball League and National Baseball Series play-offs – a nationwide passion and pastime for millions - don’t overlap, could also benefit the sport. Although neither of the two sports enjoy the same quality as seen in previous years, baseball is most definitely the more popular. It is essential therefore, to revise the national sporting calendar in order to avoid a clash and contribute in some way to broadening basketballs fan-base.

Given the numerous possibilities for the advancement of the sport, those of us who are linked in one way or another to this passionate discipline must work to support its development.

A CENTROBASKET HAT-TRICK?

The approaching men’s and women’s Centrobasket competitions, in addition to the latter squad’s participation in the Nantes Pre-Olympic World Cup in France (June 13-19) means practically no rest for players following the Superior League tournament.

Both pre-selection national teams are currently polishing their technical-tactical arsenals and training in order to be in top physical condition for the competitions.

The women’s situation is markedly different from the men’s: with a score of 131 points, Alberto Zabala’s players are currently ranked 13th worldwide. The majority of players have spent about 10 years solidifying their team and have a real chance of securing a pass to Rio 2016, especially if they are able to defeat group competitors New Zealand, given that they are unlikely to beat rivals France. Prior to this, next month, Cuba’s national female squad will play three games against Spain, followed by a further two against Brazil.

Thus, over a dozen teams will battle it out on French courts, with only five emerging victorious. Cuba faces a difficult challenge, given that apart from New Zealand and Argentina, its remaining opponents are all of a higher level. Later, the squad will fight it out in the Centrobasket competition, where they stand as undisputed champions with 16 victories over 19 editions. The previous tournament, held in Monterrey, Mexico 2014, saw the Cubans triumph 58-47 against Puerto Rico.

The men’s team almost secured a podium spot during the Nayarit edition of the competition, also held in Mexico. There, they faced various regional squads, which have notably improved over the last decade and even feature one or more Cuban players; losing the bronze medal game 75-66 to the Dominican Republic.

This year’s edition of Centrobasket will be held in Panama (June 19 and 25). There, the men’s team led by head coach Daniel Scott will need to have all areas perfected if they want to see a repeat of, or surpass, their previous performance. They have the advantage of players with experience in foreign tournaments, but will also need center Jasiel Rivero to recover from injury, a key player who recently underwent surgery to treat an injury to the fifth metacarpal on his right foot.

In order to achieve such a feat, and bearing in mind the Superior League stats record, Scott’s squad must improve their free throw and field shot percentages, passing, game-plays, and fine tune their three-point shooting.

Below are some general LSB stats as a comparative guide for other tournaments: two-point shots 47%, three-point shots 28%, field goals 42%, free throws a moderate 61 %, and set-up-turnover rate of 2.469-3.901.