Under assistant coach Allen Jemmot, the pre-selection roster for the national men’s basketball team is currently training at the Cerro Pelado High Performance Center.
During a morning training session, one player is seen continuously jogging around the court. “How many laps to go?” asks Chief Technical Director Yoanis Zaldívar.
“Only four,” Jasiel Rivero responds.
A few minutes later he finishes, recovers his breath and says, “I am working on thigh strengthening, a month ago I started to train, but I still need time to recover one hundred percent, but I am ready to make up for what I’ve missed.”
The Havana power forward is one of the most promising players in Cuban basketball. At 23 years of age and measuring 2.06 meters tall, he demonstrates a thirst to win and the desire to rise to the top, as the protagonist of a generation that aims to secure a title while representing their country.
“We have to get a medal with the Cuban team, no matter what; we’ve been in a dry spell for more than 15 years. The national team stands out for its youth and lack of international experience, so we are working with a long term view. At this stage, our main commitments are the 2018 Central American and Caribbean Games in Barranquilla, Colombia, where we will seek a medal of any color; to qualify for the World Cup in China in 2019, and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.”
What do you consider to be the main strengths of this pre-selection roster?
In my opinion this is a group that, besides its youth, as I said before, has tall men and speed on the court. Playing upfront are Santiago’s Javier Justiz, who is currently playing in the Argentine league, and myself. Osmel Oliva, national champion with the Pinar del Río team, is on defense, accompanied by William Granda of Ciego de Ávila, Matanzas’ Yuniskey Molina, Havana’s Lisván Valdés and Yoanki Mencía from Sancti Spíritus as perimeter players, all constitute a team that can win on the court.”
One of the biggest differences between our basketball and that played abroad is the effectiveness of the offense. Here we lack a lot, as was seen recently in the Superior Basketball League (LSB).
The causes? A lack of technical resources and individual work with each player. Our mentality is not the same as that of foreign basketball players. They finish their championships and they keep training all year round, if not competing in another competition.
We finish and... for anyone who doesn’t come for the national pre-selection, what do they do? They stay at home until the next National Promotion Tournament (TNA) starts. Although the provincial academies are open, most of those who are not part of the national team do not train, and need to go to work in something other than basketball.”
The power forward from the capital municipality of Boyeros contradictorily prefers the perimeter game although, as he himself recognizes, he is much more effective when he is under the hoop. Rivero has been described by Argentine magazine Básquet Plus as explosive, with excellent athletic ability, good jumping, efficient in offensive rebounds, and dangerous in transitions. His weak points include the mechanics of shooting, low defensive productivity, and command of the basics. However, the main enemy to have affected this talented athlete has been his injuries.
“In 2015, I injured a foot in Uruguay, while I participated in the championship of that country with the Tabaré team. Then I went to the Argentine league with the Estudiantes de Concordia quintet, where Javier Justiz also played, and I again suffered that injury. I had surgery here in Cuba and after recovering I joined the last LSB, where I injured my thigh. Now I am working on strengthening my muscles and taking care of myself, because given the conditions of the Cerro Pelado court, it is easy to end up injured again.”
The experience in South America was excellent. The level of those competitions is high and fairly even, which forces you to constantly push yourself. I am interested in being contracted again to play abroad, but for now my main goal is to reach top physical condition.
What do you think of the new world cup qualification format, which will allow you to play in Cuba against powers like the United States, Puerto Rico, and Mexico?
It will be a very demanding event with the best figures from each country. I have never played in Cuba wearing the national team jersey, so for me it will be very exciting to see the stands full of family and friends from my neighborhood watching. That makes one grow on the court. We want to give the best performance in each match so that the public returns the next day. That’s what we want, to have a winning streak and to be the talk of the town. You never know, anyone can get lucky. The only weak team is ours, but we can endure if we exploit our speed on the court and physical endurance, because in terms of resources, we really fall short.