The FIBA Americas 18U Championship starts Tuesday in Valdivia, Chile. The first game of the tournament on Tuesday just happens to be Team USA vs. Puerto Rico. Team USA is the overwhelming favorite. They have at least 5 projected first round picks and are loaded at every position. This is the type of David vs. Goliath matchup we as fans love to watch. This could end up being the typical blow out win for Team USA or Puerto Rico could do five things to give themselves a chance to win.
Lets be honest here, on paper Puerto Rico doesn't have the level of talent USA does. But Puerto Rico is no slouch either. 2 members of the team are already signed to division 1 schools. 4 other members of the team are being recruited by programs in the Big 5 Conferences and almost all of their players have played at the highest level of travel team and international basketball. That along with the fact that Team Puerto Rico is coached by veteran coach Danny Ortiz and assisted by Albert Perez which gives Puerto Rico a legitimate chance to win. However, they must do five simple things at a high level from start to finish.
#1. Execute- Coach Ortiz and staff will have a strong game plan but the players must do their job. In the two losses in Argentina they had a total of less then 16 assists. Far to often, guards were over dribbling, not running offensive sets, jacking up threes or waiting late in the shot clock to make smart decisions with the ball. Coach Ortiz's offense is a proven winner internationally. When teams run his stuff and look for third and fourth options Puerto Rico has had tremendous success.
#2. Play Team Defense and "Help The Helper"-If you watched the Senior Mens Team in Serbia earlier this month, you saw their inability to make the second through fourth rotations on the defensive end. The 18U must learn from that and really focus on making an effort to "Help The Helper" and play team defense. You can't out score teams like Team USA so, team defense is paramount. No one player is responsible for playing defense, it must be a team effort. We have heard very little chatter on the defensive end with maybe one or players consistently communicating defensively. To beat Team USA communicating on defense and "helping the helper" must be at the top of the list.
#3. Each Possession Counts/Protect The Ball-Anytime you play a team with the level of talent on Team USA, you must protect the ball and make great decisions on every possession. Puerto Rico has experienced PG's in Pacheco and Jackson. If you know anything about Shaka Smart, you know he is going to full court press all game long. He is going to force Puerto Rico's guards to make sound decisions and execute the proper passes to break his signature full court press. If Team PR turns it over and is careless like they were in Argentina it will be impossible to compete let alone win. On the defensive end Team PR must limit USA to one shot per possession. For that to happen, all five players must rebound and box out on every possession.
#4. Attack, Attack, Attack-If Team USA is the proverbial bully, the one team nobody thinks they can beat, the only way to play against them is to stay in attack mode from start to finish. The beauty of this game for Puerto Rico is that they have nothing to lose. There is no pressure on Puerto Rico so proving early and often that they are there to fight is an important message to send.
#5. Play For Your Brothers and Your Country-This is a dream come true for any player. Playing against Team USA is something every young player dreams about. This is the first game of the tournament and playing for each other and sticking together no matter what, is so incredibly important. We have yet to see team huddles the way championship teams always huddle. We have yet to see the type of emotion amongst teammates championship teams almost always display. If there was ever a time to leave everything on the floor it's Tuesday at 1:30pm in Valdivia, Chile versus Team USA.