By MARK LORENZANA
Fans of Mexican basketball have a lot to celebrate lately.
On the morning of Sunday, Sept. 4, the Mexican National Basketball Team defeated Panama, 65-60, in the group stages of the ongoing 2022 FIBA AmeriCup Tournament in Recife, Brazil. Previously known as the FIBA Americas Championship, the FIBA AmeriCup takes place every four years between national teams of the Western Hemisphere continents, namely, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Uruguay, Argentina, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Mexico, Venezuela, Panama and the United States.
The 12 teams competing in the AmeriCup are broken into three groups of four. The top two teams from each group are guaranteed berths in the quarterfinals, as well as two of the three third-place teams.
Panama proved to be a stiff test for Mexico, and kept the game close in the fourth quarter, even managing to come within three points in the final five minutes. The Mexican National Team regained their composure, however, and hit timely baskets to pull off the victory and avoid an upset loss, despite their team captain Paul Stoll playing through an injury that he suffered in the first quarter of the game.
Point guard Gabriel Girón, who also currently plays for Dorados de Chihuahua of the National Professional Basketball League (LNBP), led Mexico with 18 points, including five of eight makes from three-point range. Power forward Fabián Jaimes, of the NBA G League team Capitanes de Ciudad de México, chipped in with 13 points, the only other Mexican player aside from Girón who scored in double digits.
Carlos Rodríguez and Josimar Ayarza carried the scoring load for Panama, with 14 points apiece.
Mexico’s squeaker against Panama came on the heels of an upset win against the heavily favored U.S. National Men’s Basketball team, 73-67, on Saturday, Sept. 3. It was a historic win for Mexico, as it was the first time that it defeated powerhouse United States, the current defending champion of the tournament.
Mexican-American Stoll — who also plays professionally for Hapoel Tel Aviv of the Israeli Premier League — shone for Mexico in that game, as he scored 15 points, dished out nine assists and grabbed five rebounds. Stoll, however, got much-needed support from center Daniel Amigo of the Libertadores de Querétaro of the LNBP, who contributed 13 points. Jaimes also added 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to help Mexico notch the win.
Jeremy Pargo led the United States with 14 points, while Norris Cole scored 11 and Gary Clark grabbed 12 rebounds for the Americans.
Both teams shot a horrid 39 percent in that game, but the United States threw the ball away 18 times, while Mexico only committed 13 turnovers, and was whistled for 22 fouls to Mexico’s 15.
Mexico is currently in Group C, alongside Panama, the United States and Venezuela. With the two wins, Mexico is already assured of a quarterfinals berth.
The AmeriCup tournament is separate from the ongoing qualifying for next year’s FIBA Basketball World Cup, which will be hosted by Asian countries the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia. Incidentally, in the fourth window of the FIBA qualifying tournament, the Mexican National Men’s Basketball Team likewise upset Brazil on Monday, Aug. 29, at the Arena Jaraguá to hand the home team their third consecutive loss in the 2023 FIBA World Cup Qualifiers.
Again, team captain Stoll provided the heroics as he shot a perfect four out of four from the three-point line.
With the unexpected upset, Mexico has tied Brazil with five wins to three losses in Group F at the end of the fourth window.