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Keeping an Eye on the Hornets in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament
Al-Farouq Aminu and his Nigerian teammates will face off against the Dominican Republic for the final spot in the Olympics, but he’s not the only Hornet who was involved in qualifying– Greivis Vasquez and Venezuela gave it the old college try as well.
Before we get into how Aminu and Vasquez have fared in qualifying, allow me to try and explain how countries go about qualifying for the Olympics, and how it’s played out so far. When I say “try”, I really do mean it.
Ways to qualify directly and who made it
- Win the previous FIBA World Championship– USA (Gordon was on this team)
- Top two in Eurobasket–Spain (winner) and France
- Top two in FIBA Americas Championship– Argentina (winner) and Brazil
- Win the FIBA Asia Championship– China
- Win the FIBA Africa Championship– Tunisia
- Win the FIBA Oceania Championship — Australia
- Be the host nation– Great Britain
- Take top three in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament– Russia, Lithuania, and the winner of Nigeria/Dominican Republic
Ways to Qualify for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament
- Place 3-6 in Eurobasket — Greece, Lithuania, Russia, Macedonia (yes, Macedonia)
- Place 3-5 in the FIBA Americas Championship– Domincan Republic, Peurto Rico, Venezuela
- Place 2nd or 3rd in the FIBA Asia Championship– Jordan and South Korea
- Place 2nd or 3rd in the FIBA Africa Championship– Angola and Nigeria
- Place 2nd in the FIBA Oceania Championship– New Zealand
Anyway, after five full regional tournaments, an international championship, and a million hearts broken (in Greece alone), it all comes down to one final game to determine who gets the final slot to compete for the Gold– Nigeria versus the Domincan Republic.
The game is at 7:00 CST on NBA TV, and I highly suggest you watch it. As far as non-title international basketball games go, this one is about as relevant as it gets.
How Aminu has done so far
In his first game–where he coincidentally was playing Greivis Vasquez— Aminu played 23 minutes in the loss, struggling from inside the three point arc (2-8) but managing to hit the long ball (2-3) enough to wind up with 10 points on 10 shots. He added 3 boards, 2 assists, and 2 blocks, but also turned it over thrice.
The Nigerian Prince (not really) had a strong showing in his teams huge upset win over Lithuania, going 5-11 from the field for 16 points and a team high 9 rebounds. He added 2 assists to go along with his 2 turnovers.
In game three Nigeria executed arguably the biggest upset of qualifying so far– beating Greece 80-79. According to the official website for the tournament (which is really annoying to navigate), Ike Diogu (the former Hornet who never actually played a game) was the rock of Gibraltar, but Al Farouq (13 points on 11 shots, 5 rebounds) “was also important, making repeated big plays throughout the game.”
On a side note, maybe the Hornets should take another look at Diogu. He’s played great so far in the tournament.
In game four against Russia, which could have assured Nigeria an Olympic spot, Aminu and his teammates struggled hard. The FIBA site refers to Aminu’s performance as “prominent”, but the reality is that he had 7 turnovers, scored only 13 points on 16 shots, and added a meager 3 rebounds in 34 minutes. The Nigerians lost the game and as a result find themselves facing the (edit-Domincan Republic) tomorrow.
I haven’t watched more than a few minutes of these games, but tomorrow you can bet I won’t miss a play. Aminu has been working with Monty Williams all summer long and this is arguably the most important game he’s played in his life. How he handles himself can, and likely will, tell us quite a bit about the progress that he’s made.
Certainly the international game isn’t the same as the NBA, but if Aminu doesn’t show up, it will make me think a bit less of his chances to become a starting caliber NBA player. Am I placing a bit too much emphasis on one game? Maybe, but we often judge NBA players by how they perform in the most important NBA games. This isn’t much different. Plus he’s playing against remarkably inferior competition.
Best of luck to Aminu tomorrow.
How Greivis Vasquez has fared
I guess I can start off by telling you that Greivis and his teammates won’t be playing in the Olympics this year. That said, it’s not his fault.
In game one against Aminu and Nigeria, Vasquez played the role as scorer. We already know that he’s capable of dishing the rock (10.2 assists/48 as a starter last year), but it’s nice to see him dropping 24 points on 19 shots in only 32 minutes. He talked a bit about his performance after the game.
In game two, a big loss against Lithuania that wound up being the final game for Venezuela, Vasquez nearly replicated his performance from game one. He scored 24 points yet again, this time on 18 shots. He added a team high 7 assists versus just three turnovers.
You might not think that Vasquez’s scoring numbers are too impressive, but he’s going to wind up being the second leading scorer in the tournament in terms of points per game. If the rest of his teammates hadn’t gone a pitiful 18-59 from the field against Nigeria, and 20-46 against Lithuania, Venezuela would have probably advanced to the quarterfinals. Instead, they were eliminated as a result of their overall +/-.
The Olympic Qualifying tournament probably won’t produce a champion, or even a medalist, but it’s one heck of a tournament and deserves more attention than it gets. Tune in tomorrow and yell so loud that Aminu hears you all the way from the host (edit-country) of Venezuela. I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.