2014 FIBA World Cup: Group D Preview – Mexico
Craig Rayner takes a look at the Australian Boomers' Group D opponents in the lead up to the 2014 FIBA World Cup for men. Their fourth contest in the group stage of the competition is against Mexico.
The Australian Boomers penultimate match in the group stages of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup is against a team whose last match at a World Championships as far back as the 1974 World Championships. Interestingly enough, their last game that year was actually a win against Australia! Given the 40-year gap since Mexico graced the World Championships stage (they last played at an Olympics in 1976 in Montreal) one can see why emotion gripped the Central American nation. Last September they not only qualified for the World Cup in Spain at the FIBA Americas Championships in Caracas, Venezuela, but they actually won the tournament.
To win the FIBA Americas title, the Mexicans had to overcome the likes of a Puerto Rico twice during the tournament; a team that boasted the likes of NBA player J.J. Barea and Carlos Arroyo. The second win against the Puerto Rican's came in the final after they first accounted for a somewhat weakened Argentine team in the semi-final. The Argentinians were still led admirably by Luis Scola, however Mexico put the basketball world on notice by stepping up with an upset victory.
Ranked 27th in the world, Mexico have made it known they’re not content just to continue to bask in the glory of 2013 and are keen to make an impression in Spain. They commenced preparations for the World Cup earlier than many other nations by holding their initial training camps as far back as June.
The core of this Mexican team is centered around big man Gustavo Ayon, who not only led the team at last year’s FIBA Americas Championships with 17.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, but was also named tournament MVP. However, Ayon was not able to start his World Cup preparations with most of his team-mates in June, instead recovering from a shoulder injury suffered while playing 26 games for the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA last season.
Gustavo Ayon starred for Mexico in their 2013 FIBA Americas triumph - Courtesy FIBA Americas
Recently speaking with FIBA.com, Spanish-born coach of Mexico since 2011 Sergio Valdeomillos said he was not far away from being ready;
"He is training on the court, each time a little more. He needs to recuperate the mobility of his arm because now he’s at 90%. He is working, but he will be adapting to the team more and more."
While Mexico await the return of their cornerstone, they have another rising star that will gain some attention in this World Cup. 190cm point guard Jorge Gutierrez who played 15 games for the Brooklyn Nets last season while contributing just under 10 points and 4.2 assists a game during Mexico's victorious run in Venezuela last year.
One may think Mexico’s emergence may be due to an up and coming roster of younger players, however they will go to Spain with an average age of 28. While some of the Mexican roster has European in addition to US College experience. including forward Roman Martinez (Spanish ACB and New Mexico), many ply their trade in the local Mexican and other Central American leagues. Coach Valdeomillos will be looking to his roster of older heads to continue the firm focus they had on the defensive end last year, where Mexico were 2nd in blocks and 4th in rebounds at the FIBA Americas Championships.
"I hope that with our defensive concept we are able to avoid speculation and play counter-attacks. (Getting) the rebounds on our (offensive) glass is our aim and we will try to project that in every game."
With Mexico flying under the radar up until the later stages of that tournament, the world now knows to take notice and get their first look at them in the upcoming Centrobasket tournament to be staged at home in Nayarit in early August. This tournament comprises of Central America’s top 10 teams, also featuring fellow World Cup participants Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Other notable matches in the Mexican’s build up to Spain is against Brazil and Argentina, who will host both matches. They will then arrive in Spain well in advance of the World Cup for friendlies against Spain and Croatia in mid-August, followed by two matches against Egypt just prior to their opening Group D match in Gran Canaria.
Australia opens the 2014 FIBA World Cup with a game against Slovenia in Gran Canaria, Spain on August 31 at 1:30am AEST live on ABC2 or online on FIBA's livebasketball.tv.
Preview of Australia's Group D Opponents (in order)
Slovenia (Preview) - 31 August 2014, 1:30am AEST Korea (Preview) - 31 August 2014, 11:30pm AEST Lithuania (Preview) - 3 September 2014, 1:30am AEST Mexico - 3 September 2014, 11:30pm AEST Angola (Preview) - 4 September 2014, 11:30pm AEST