Having played for the U.S. Virgin Islands senior men’s national team for nearly 10 years, Ivan Aska is well aware of how tight game scheduling can be for FIBA tournaments.
But the USVI National Team will be even busier heading into the third and final window of games in the FIBA AmeriCup 2022 Qualifiers, which begin today in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The U.S. Virgin Islands will play three games in four days at San Juan’s Roberto Clemente Coliseum — against Canada twice, at 8 p.m. today and 11:30 a.m. Saturday, and the Dominican Republic at 2 p.m. Friday.
“Yeah, it’s going to be busy, but it’s going to be good competition, especially with us having to play more games,” said the 30-year-old Aska, who has played with the USVI National Team since 2011.
“I’m kinda used to [playing so many games in a row], but I’ve been trying to get the other guys in tune — stretching more at practice, and getting them to understand what we’re about to face.”
The additional game — normally, teams only play twice in each of the three game windows — came about as a result of Canada’s national team skipping its scheduled games in the second window last November.
Officials with Canada Basketball said at the time that it could not take part in the late November games, played in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Canadians announced their decision less than a week before its first scheduled game.
That led to FIBA fining Canada Basketball 160,000 Swiss francs ($179,596 U.S. dollars) and docking the team one game point, with half of the fine and the game point deferred pending the Canadian National Team’s participation in the final window’s games.
That also sets up a busy weekend for the Canadians — four games in five days. In addition to playing the USVI twice, Canada also has a pair of games against Cuba, at 8 p.m. Thursday and 7 p.m. Sunday. Cuba also has three games, with a rematch against the Dominican Republic at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
However, don’t look for any sympathy for the Canadians from USVI National Team head coach Donald Bough.
“I assume Canada will be there,” Bough said with a laugh. “I thought the premise they used the last time to not go to Punta Cana, that same premise still exists.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has made things tougher for all of the teams, Bough said.
“Some teams are having to do minimal practices,” he said. “Luckily for us, we were able to get the OK from the [Virgin Islands] Health Department to practice [on St. Croix last week]. Some countries can’t practice until they get to San Juan.
“It’s really tough to control all the intangibles that COVID has brought up. … It makes for a tougher road, and hopefully we can put everything together so that we can be in the driver’s seat for the next round.”
That’s what makes this final window of games so important — the top three teams in each of the four groups advance to the FIBA AmeriCup 2022 tournament. That tournament also serves as the qualifying tournament for the 2023 Pan American Games, being held in Santiago, Chile.
The Dominican Republic currently leads Group C with a 3-1 record, with Cuba and the U.S. Virgin Islands tied at 1-2. Canada is last at 1-1. For the USVI National Team to advance, they would have to win at least one of the three games, and hope that Canada has trouble against Cuba.
“We’re used to this,” Bough said, referring to the packed schedule. “It is what it is. We’ve just got to play whoever’s in front of us, and try to get that win.”