It's not unheard of for the national basketball teams of foreign countries to feature a talented American prospect or two who have familial connections to a distant land.
The case of the team the Dominican Republic plans to field in the forthcoming Pan American Games qualifying tournament in August goes quite a bit further. According to the New York Daily News, players from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut make up one half of the Dominican team's total roster. Luckily, their coach can make them feel right at home; Oliver Antigua is a native of the Bronx, where he coaches St. Raymond (N.Y.) High.
"It's going to be a challenge to blend the guys from the States, and the guys from D.R.," Antigua told the Daily News. "Some of the guys on my team don't even speak Spanish," added the coach, who is of Dominican descent. "I'm sure some of the guys down there don't even speak English. I'm bilingual so I can bridge the gap, but I'm interested in seeing how they are going to get along."
The Daily News lists Karl Towns, Jason Nunez, Joel Hernandez, Diego Moquete, Ajani Santos, Adonis De La Rosa as well as assistant coach Ralph Salazar as Dominican Republic team members who live and compete in the greater New York area, in addition to Antigua.
While the language and cultural gap between the team's Dominican-based players and their American counterparts could pose significant challenges, the president of the Dominican Basketball Association in the U.S. claimed he thought the tournament could present a unique opportunity to help groom a new generation of home grown talent while leaning on the experience of promising American prep stars.
"(In the Dominican) you see talent, but that is raw talent," said DBA of U.S. president Pedro Perez. "The players here have talent, but have not played on AAU teams and faced talent that comes from all over. These kids that we are bringing here have already seen talent of this age, and we want to bring that competition to the international level."
The commitment to connecting U.S. stars with Dominican backgrounds and the grassroots development of the game in the Caribbean goes much farther than the U-17 team which will compete for a Pan Am spot, as well. The DBA hired John Calipari as the head national team coach in May and is aiming for a spot in the 2012 Olympics.
Whether or not either Dominican team qualifies for their flagship tournament (the U-17 squad for the Pan Am Games or the senior squad for the Olympics), it's clear that connecting with American players of Dominican heritage is already paying dividends.
In fact, one of the current U-17 Dominican players provides a case in point in how far the country's national program has come. Shortly after being named to the Dominican Pan Am squad, Towns was offered a spot on the U.S. team. The Piscataway (N.J.) Theodore Schor Middle School graduate (he is a rising freshman) quickly declined the U.S. offer.
"It's a dream to play with my fellow Dominicans," said Towns, who lives in Piscataway, N.J. "I was raised in a Dominican environment, so it was better I represent my family."