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The long wait about to end for Huertas

It’s been a very long time since Brazil had a team in the men’s tournament at the Olympics.

Not since 1996, when the great FIBA Hall of Famer Oscar Schmidt, international basketball’s scoring machine, have the Carioca men taken part in one of the most glamorous sporting events in the world.

That drought is thankfully come to an end for the good people back in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

Brazil booked their place in the London Games by reaching the FIBA Americas Championship Final in Argentina this summer.

“It was a dream that we all had, and not just the players,” point guard Marcelo Huertas told FIBA.com.

“I think the country needed it because we were out for three Olympic Games.

“We had the chance, we were right at the door a couple of times but lost crucial games and then finally this year, we got this passage to the Olympic Games and it’s like a dream for us.

“I hope that next year, we can get there excited and do a great job.”

The 28-year-old Huertas, who led Brazil’s balanced scoring attack in Argentina with an average of 11.6 points per game and had 19 along with seven assists in the crucial 83-76 Semi-Final victory over the Dominican Republic, remembers the last time Brazil competed in Atlanta.

“It was 1996 when Oscar played his last Olympic Games,” he says.

“It was great to see him play, the maximum scorer of all time in the Olympic Games.

“Maybe we didn’t have the best team, but they did a good job.”

That Brazil had the toughest of all Quarter-Final opponents, a United States side full of NBA All-Stars, and lost.

They rebounded with a victory over a very good Croatia that had Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja and a host of other outstanding players, but then fell to Greece in the battle for fifth place.

“Now, maybe it’s time for the new generation to gets its own recognition,” Huertas says.

Peak of a career

Brazil have had a lot of players in recent years to join NBA clubs but not Huertas, although he’d be able to make it in that league.

Everyone in the United States knows Huertas from last year when he nearly led Brazil to an upset of Team USA at the FIBA World Championship.

The São Paulo native had made his mark in Europe long before then with some dynamic displays for Joventut Badalona, Bilbao and Baskonia.

Huertas has been named in the ideal quintet – the top five Spanish players.

A pass-first playmaker, he can also score by putting the ball on the floor or hitting jump shots.

His best move is actually reminiscent of Bob Cousy, the legendary Boston Celtics guard.

Huertas can be dribbling anywhere in a half-court offense and will launch a shot off one foot.

Two seasons ago, he and Brazilian center Tiago Splitter led Caja Laboral (Baskonia) to a 3-0 sweep of heavily favored Barcelona in the ACB Finals.

Now, Huertas is playing for Barca.

It’s confirmation of where he is as a player, that the best team in Spain and one of the best in Europe wants him as a starting point guard.

“Of course,” Huertas says.

“You feel recognized and for all that you have done for your career and now, coming to a maturity of basketball, I think it’s like a good prize for me.

“I’m just glad I’m here. I’m very happy. The situation is great. The team is awesome and we have liberty to play.

“It’s one of the best teams in Europe and I couldn’t be happier.”

Tears and disappointment

Some fans have a deeper love for their players when the national teams suffer heart-breaking defeats.

There is a shared grief.

Even the neutrals couldn’t help but feel for Huertas and Brazil in 2010 when they came so close to upsetting the United States in the Preliminary Round and then fell to a narrow defeat to Argentina in the Eight-Finals.

In the loss to the USA, Huertas had a chance to force overtime in the final seconds with Brazil trailing by two but failed to make the first of two free-throws.

He intentionally missed the second, pushing the ball hard off the rim so that it caromed into the left corner.

Huertas chased it down but couldn’t attempt a game-winning three as two USA defenders flew into view.

Instead, he delivered a perfect pass to Leandro Barbosa in the lane and the guard put up a shot off the glass that looked to be good, only to fall and bounce off the front of the rim and stay out.

The USA won that game, 70-68.

Brazil ended up playing Argentina and Luis Scola had arguably his finest-ever national team performance, pouring in 37 points in a 93-89 win over Huertas and Co.

Huertas sobbed as he left the court.

It seemed Brazil had caught Argentina at the wrong time.

“Yes, maybe,” he says.

“We had the game in our hands.

“I think maybe that was the wrong team to play against.

“Argentina is always a tough team to play, especially when we play against each other, it’s going to be a hard game – no matter which players are in there.

“Maybe we lost too early. We had a dream to go a lot further than we did.

“We thought we would be able to fight for a medal, but unfortunately we lost.

“But life keeps going and we have to forget that. We have to think about next year.

“We have a great opportunity to play in the Olympics, which is a great competition maybe even the higher level than the world tournament, so maybe we can make this dream come true.”

The big opportunity

Now that Brazil have at long last earned a place in the Olympic Games again, will they be content just to show up?

Might the whole occasion be so grand, like taking part in the Opening Ceremony and living in the Olympic Village, that Brazil will be content just to take part?

“We’ll be as hungry as ever,” Huertas says.

“I know that for some players, it will be the only opportunity to be there, so there is no such thing that gives you more confidence, or will to get what you want.

“For sure we’re going to be hungry, maybe hungrier than anybody else there.

“Maybe we’re not as experienced as other teams, but the hunger we’re going to have will be bigger for sure.”

Jeff Taylor

About Basketball

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