By Alfredo R. Berrios
SAN JUAN -- Call it the "Clash of the Caribbean Titans”. The coach for the Dominican Republic is viewing Wednesday's game against Puerto Rico as the one which could determine if his team can advance any further in the FIBA Americas Championship.
There's also an emotional toll attached to this match.
Julio Toro is Puerto Rican and has been Puerto Rico's national head coach on more than one occasion, including the 2004 Olympics when the Puerto Ricans beat the Dream Team in Athens.
"Destiny gave me this opportunity to return to the international game and it's an honor to be coaching the Dominican Republic," said Toro. Dominican Republic, led by Charlie Villanueva, Al Horford and Luis Flores, won 80-74 over Uruguay in Day 1 of the quarterfinals.
Villanueva scored 19 points, Horford added 17 and Flores 14 for the Dominicans. Leandro Garcia Morales scored a game-high 28 points for Uruguay -- all of them in the first three quarters -- and teammate Esteban Batista added 16 points and eight rebounds.
"The best I can do for Puerto Rican basketball is to do the best job I can and for the players to give it their all,” Toro said.
Toro envisions being able to beat the Puerto Ricans to reach the 11 points in the standings, which equals to three victories during the quarterfinals. He got his first wish Tuesday against Uruguay and has two more shots at doing so plus the game against Puerto Rico.
"I'm thinking about the three (victories), that's why the game was so important (Tuesday)," explained Toro while referring to Wednesday's tilt as the "Caribbean Classic."
But it's not the first time Toro has coached against his native country in these competitions. In 1997 he led Venezuela to a 97-83 victory over Puerto Rico in the FIBA Americas Championship that took place in Montevideo, Uruguay.
The highly important matchup has the entire Dominican team on alert status, considering that Puerto Rico is still undefeated in the 2009 FIBA Americas Championship.
The first day of the quarterfinal round concluded with Puerto Rico's victory over Panama, 79-51.
Panama's Danilo Pinnock finished with 23 points and was followed by Jaime Lloreda with eight points. Puerto Rico's Peter John Ramos and Guillermo Diaz both scored 12 points. Ramos also grabbed 11 rebounds.
UPCOMING GAMES IN SAN JUAN
Canada vs. Brazil, 1:30 p.m. ET
Uruguay vs. Panama, 4 p.m. ET
Mexico vs. Argentina, 6:30 p.m. ET
Puerto Rico vs. Dominican Republic, 9 p.m. ET
Puerto Rico's Carlos Arroyo wishes he would have handled things differently with Utah coach Jerry Sloan when he started as point guard for the Jazz.
"When (our differences) emerged, I should have approached Jerry Sloan," Arroyo told ESPN Deportes' Alvaro Martin in an interview for TV.
"I should have done it right there; waiting for things to just happen was not the right decision."
Arroyo, who signed with the Jazz after splitting his first NBA season with the Toronto Raptors and Denver Nuggets, was appointed the starting point guard by Sloan after John Stockton retired in 2003. He clashed at times with Sloan over the way the offense was run.
Canada's Carl English is enthused with the anticipation of the upcoming season with Caja Laboral Saski Baskonia in Spain's ACB league where he will be teaming up with Argentinean Walter Hermann and the Brazilian duo of Marcelino Huertas and Tiago Splitter.
"I'm enthusiastic about playing together with Marcelino and Tiago and I'm hoping to do a good job with them this season," said English, who played last season in the ACB for Gran Canarias.
Huerta and Splitter are playing in the FIBA Americas tournament and will be facing their future teammate Wednesday in the second round, which will determine the four teams that advance to the World Championship in Turkey.
Argentina defeated Canada 67-51 Tuesday and won their third straight game at the FIBA Americas Championship played at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum.
Leo Gutierrez led Argentina with 15 points. Federico Kammerichs scored 13 and Luis Scola added 12 points with nine rebounds. English led Canada with 17 points while Jesse Young followed with 13.
According to FIBA Americas director Anibal Garcia, the organizing committee is satisfied with the way the tournament has been conducted.
"We're very satisfied with the entire situation. The basketball federation chose this event with only 80 days (of planning remaining)," said Garcia, who is also in charge of referee assignments and the disciplinary aspects of the qualifier. "This tournament usually takes a year to put together."
He went on to explain that with the exception of the fines levied upon the U.S. Virgin Islands, Panama and Venezuela for their on-court and locker room incidents, there hasn't been a major issue on the court that would require FIBA Americas' intervention.
"In terms of the [quality of the] game, we're very satisfied," he said. "We haven't had any major on-court problems. Refereeing has been very effective."
The director added that he's unaware of any tests conducted by the World Anti-Doping Agency. He also reminded everyone that those tests are confidential. The rule calls for any player to be called upon for testing at any time.
"I'm not sure if any tests have been done yet. Dr. Olivero is the one who will particularly make that decision," said Garcia in reference to the individual in charge of testings conducted at the tournament.
The participating countries in the 2009 FIBA Americas Championship are Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, U.S. Virgin Islands and Venezuela.
No other team in this year's FIBA Americas Championship has spent more time without participating in a World Championship than Mexico.
The last time Mexico participated in such event was back in 1974. That World Championship took place in San Juan. Next on the list is Dominican Republic, which returned to play after a 31-year absence. The Dominicans last played at the FIBA World Championship in 1978 in Manila.
U.S. Virgin Islands have never played in a World Championship. Argentina, Brazil, USA, Puerto Rico and Venezuela participated in the 2006 FIBA World Championship, according to FIBAAmericas.com.
The United States was the only representative of America with a medal by winning bronze over Argentina. The United States already qualified for the 2010 FIBA World Championship by winning gold in the 2008 Olympic Games.
In other quarterfinal action, Brazil crushed Mexico 92-61 to win their fifth straight game at the FIBA Americas Championship.
Leandro Barbosa finished with 18 points. Anderson Varejao and Guilherme Giovannoni scored 10 each. Varejao also added 12 rebounds and Marcelinho Machado dished five assists.
Mexico (0-4) was led by Anthony Pedroza and Noe Alonzo with 10 points each.