This past Thursday night I headed towards Club Athletic Paulistano’s gym to watch the Brazilian U19 squad scrimmage against the Brazilian Pan American Games team in what was their last chance to have a friendly atmosphere on court. After a strong first quarter by the U19 squad (17-15), the more intense and calculated rhythm of Marcelo Huertas (Joventut Badalona), JP Batista (Rytas), and Marcelinho’s (Zalgiris) game took over.
Coach Neto started Carlos Ortega, the Spanish-Brazilian point guard, Betinho, Thomas Melazzo, Rafael “Mineiro” de Souza and Paulo “Paulão” Prestes at the 5. Carlos and Betinho showed hard work but didn’t have the emotional strength to avoid a series turnovers throughout the game. Paulão was the go to guy as most of the plays were designed to use his strength and mobility at the post. However, with JP Batista and Caio Torres (Estudiantes de Madrid) banging on him, he was low on stamina by half time.
Nonetheless the three athletes will be key figures in Brazil’s attempt to reach the second phase of the FIBA U19 World Championship that starts next week. It’s clear that things will be difficult. Although some of them have experience playing professionally in their clubs, nothing is compared to the quality and quantity of time on court that guys like Nicolas Batum and Martynas Gecevicius have been getting since they were drafted into their clubs pro squads.
The first game, against Lebanon, is key to this team’s chances of qualifying to the second round. Losing the first game will put the Brazilians against a French team that will be either securing the first spot in the group, or hungry to get over a first round loss to Lithuania. I wouldn’t like to see Batum being challenged at this level either way. The damage could be ugly.
As Neto stated, “the game against Lebanon will be a do or die situation”. There will be no room for mistakes. On the other side of the court he will find Adriano Geraldes, a Brazilian coach that moved to the Middle East earlier in the year searching for the endless petrol dollars, and that will be looking for a win due to the same reasons mentioned above.
The final is on July 12th. Stay tuned!
Note: The game against France is scheduled for Friday, July 13th, but if it was on Saturday, July 14th (the storming of the Bastille), things could get worse.