The U.S. Virgin Islands’ senior men’s national team is now in a waiting game.
After three close games — all losses — this weekend in the final group-play games at the FIBA AmeriCup 2022 Qualifers in San Juan, the USVI National Team is left wondering if they’re moving on — or will be the “odd man out.”
Saturday’s 95-90 loss to Canada left the USVI with a 1-5 final record in Group C, behind the Dominican Republic (4-1) and Canada (3-1). Both of the frontrunners earned two of the group’s three berths in the 12-team field for the FIBA AmeriCup 2022 tournament.
The question now remains — who will get the third spot, the U.S. Virgin Islands or Cuba? That will depend on how FIBA officials rule on Cuba’s decision not to take part in this weekend’s group-play games.
“There’s only so many [teams] that can qualify,” USVI guard Walter Hodge said. “We had three chances to win one game, and not have to worry about what Cuba will do.
“We came to every window, we showed a good face, we worked. … The way we played this weekend was amazing, and I’m proud of all the players and the coaching staff. But that’s all we can control. At the end of the day, hopefully we can qualify; if not, we have to do a better job of bringing everybody so we can win some games.”
The Cuban Basketball Federation announced Feb. 12 — five days before the Qualifiers began — that it was withdrawing its team due to the current COVID-19 pandemic in the country, which has had 40,765 cases and 277 deaths in an island of 11.3 million people.
The situation with Cuba is very similar to Canada’s situation in the second window of qualifying games, which took place last November in the Dominican Republic.
Canada Basketball withdrew its team less than a week before the opening game, like Cuba citing the COVID-19 pandemic. That led to FIBA fining the organization 160,000 Swiss francs (nearly $180,000 U.S. dollars) and docking the team a game point.
However, half of the fine and the game point were deferred pending Canada’s participation in this weekend’s games. Canada Basketball is also appealing the rest of the fine.
Cuba (1-2) was scheduled to play three games in San Juan — two against Canada, the third against the Dominican Republic. According to a release from the Cuban Basketball Federation announcing the withdrawal, it was offering to play the games at a later date in Havana.
The USVI National Team has already played Cuba twice, splitting its two games — winning 80-64 on St. Thomas and losing 91-64 in Havana last February.
According to FIBA Americas spokesman Jaime Gutierrez, the decision on what to do about Cuba’s remaining games — as well as any fines and other penalties — will come from FIBA officials at the governing body’s headquarters in Switzerland.
“I can’t speculate on that – I will have to leave it up to the higher-ups at FIBA to determine what will be the outcome on that,” USVI National Team head coach Donald Bough said. “I know that they have [three] games … but I don’t know what they’re going to do.
“We try to control our own fate, and it didn’t happen. We’ll see what happens.”
Big game for Hodge: This weekend’s games were some of the highest-scoring games of the AmeriCup Qualifiers for the USVI National Team. A big reason for that was Hodge.
The 6-1 quard scored a career-high 44 points in Saturday’s loss to Canada, eclipsing his previous best of 28 points set just four days earlier — again, against Canada in a 95-93 loss. He also had 27 points in Friday’s 103-99 overtime loss to the Dominican Republic.
That’s a 33 points per game average over the three-game span. Hodge finished the six-game group play with a 26.0 per game average.
“Walter was just amazing,” Bough said. “I didn’t realize it until I saw the final stats, and saw those two ‘4s’ and just thought, ‘Wow.’”