By BRENT STUBBS
Senior Sports Reporter
As they all watched the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments 2024 draw unfold on Monday, assistant coach Moses Johnson said they are thrilled with the pool the Bahamas national men’s basketball team was placed in.
Team Bahamas, coming off its championship victory in the Pre-Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Santiago, Argentina, in August, was selected to play in Valencia, Spain in Group B with Finland and Poland from July 2-7. Making up Group A are Lebanon, Angola and Spain.
There are three other Groups of three teams placed in two pools in Piraeus, Greece, Riga, Latvia and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Two teams from each group will advance to the semifinal stage. However, only the winners of each group will book their tickets to the 2024 Olympic Basketball Tournament in Paris, France.
Those teams will join France, USA, Canada, Australia, South Sudan, Japan, Serbia and Germany, who have already qualified for the Olympics, scheduled for July 27 to August 11.
Johnson, an assistant coach on the staff that is led by Chris DeMarco, an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors, said the draw is just what the Bahamas Basketball Federation needed to be in a position to participate in its best chance ever as a team to qualify for the Olympics. “We are happy where we are placed. We are confident that we can compete in that group and we’re looking forward to starting the process for July 2024,” Johnson said.
“The coaching staff is ecstatic, the players are ecstatic, but it’s more than just being pleased about where we ended up in the group. We now have to put our mind towards competing in that group and getting to the top of the group because only that one team that raises to the occasion will be left standing to head into Paris.”
Matched against Poland and Finland, Johnson said Team Bahamas will have to play basketball for 48 minutes and be prepared to go toe-to-toe with their rivals when it counts the most down the stretch.
“Those are tough, gritty teams. Poland might not have a bunch of superstars that people think, but they have guys who play at a high level in Europe, so we are not playing any slouch. We have to play for 48 minutes.
“And with Finland, they have a pretty good team, led by Lauri Markkanen (who plays for the Utah Jazz in the NBA). We just have to prepare for them. We feel we have a chance to be in every game when it counts down the stretch, especially with having Eric Gordon returning.”
In preparation for the tournament, Moses said the BBF and the coaching staff will be looking at assembling the best 12 players to play.
“This is the highest level that we’ve ever been in basketball and so the coaching staff will be looking at getting the best 12 players together over the next few months,” he stated. “We will try to name a squad of about 24 players and from that, we will select the best 12 to represent the country. It was such an honour to hear the commentators say that this is the only time that the Bahamas will play at the Qualifying Tournament and to hear them say that the Bahamas has never been to the Olympics, but they are no pushover.”
In their quest to assemble the best 12 players, Johnson said the federation is looking at taking a team to play in the Americas Cup in February, which will serve as a tune-up as the Bahamas competes against Puerto Rico in a home and away series. “We are reaching out to all of our corporate partners in the Bahamas to help us assemble this team,” Johnson stated. “We want them to come on board and assist us because this is no easy feat to get to the Olympics. “We just hope that persons can start wrapping their minds around how they can assist the federation and the team and so if there are persons out there interested, we are asking them to reach out to us because we need the financial support of everybody to accomplish this goal.”
Team Bahamas, behind the NBA trio of newly acquired Gordon (from the Phoenix Suns), Grand Bahamian Chavano ‘Buddy’ Hield (Indiana Pacers) and DeAndre Ayton (Portland Trail Blazers), won their Pre-Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Santiago del Estero, Argentina in August.
In the championship game, Team Bahamas knocked off Argentina 82-75 to earn the rights to play in the Olympic Qualifier. The teams won 78-62 over Uruguay in the semifinal.
Other members of Team Bahamas were Dominick Bridgewater, Franco Miller Jr, Rashad Davis, Travis Munnings, Lourawls Nairn Jr, Kentwan Smith, Jaraun Burrows, Garvin Clarke and Davis Nesbitt. “We expect that all of the players who were at the qualifying tournament to return,” Johnson said. “We are looking at trying to do some more stuff to beef up the team a bit. “We will look at the eligibility clause of some other players and see what we can do. We just want to be able to put the best 12 players on the floor that the Bahamas has ever seen.”