Liz is man to watch

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

It’ll be either the Philippines or the Dominican Republic advancing to the knockout semifinals with group leader Serbia in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Belgrade and the showdown is set tonight (2:30 a.m. tomorrow early morning, Manila time). That, of course, assumes Serbia defeated Gilas yesterday (the result was still not available at presstime). The Dominicans put up a tough fight against Serbia in their OQT debut the other day, folding up down the stretch after a 47-all halftime deadlock. Serbia leaned on a 9-0 blast in the fourth quarter to win, 94-76. The hosts murdered the Dominicans in paint points, 58-24, fastbreak points, 24-9 and assists, 26-14.

The Dominicans have never played in the Olympics and thrice made it to the FIBA World Cup, the first in Manila in 1978 when they failed to qualify for the eight-team semifinals. In the 2014 World Cup, the Quisqueyanos (as the Dominicans are called) entered the round of 16 and in 2019, reached the second round. Al Horford and Karl Anthony Towns are Dominicans playing in the NBA but they’re not in the OQT roster. Former NBA players of Dominican descent include Charlie Villanueva, Tito Horford, Felipe Lopez and Francisco Garcia.

There are seven Dominicans in coach Melvyn Lopez’ squad with US NCAA credentials and at least four were born outside of Dominican shores. It’s not certain if anyone of the four foreign-born players is a naturalized import or if they received their Dominican passports before turning 16. The four are 6-2 point guard Mike Torres born in Spain, 6-6 Adonys Henriquez born in Orlando, 6-8 Luis Santos born in New York and 6-4 Sadiel Rojas born in Fort Worth, Texas. The team’s average height is 6-4 and average age is 28. The tallest players are Santos, Angel Nunez and Brayan Martinez, all 6-8. The Dominicans’ lack of ceiling will be exploited by Gilas as it was by Serbia. Gilas’ average height is 6-6 and average age, 22.

Offguard Victor Liz is the man to watch on the Dominicans’ side. He’s the only two-time World Cupper in the roster, averaging 6.5 points in 2014 and 13 points in 2019. Liz, 35, is the team’s senior statesman. A journeyman, he has played in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Uruguay, Argentina and Mexico. Against Serbia the other day, he had 16 points, nine rebounds and two triples. Torres, 26, is the Dominicans’ other hotshot. He, too, hit 16 against Serbia to go with three rebounds and four assists before fouling out. In this year’s FIBA America Cup qualifiers, Torres compiled 19 points, nine rebounds and 11 assists in the Dominicans’ 103-99 win over the US Virgin Islands. Both Liz and Torres stand 6-2 so they’ll be mismatched against Gilas’ taller defenders.

Rojas and 6-7 Jhonathan Araujo are other Quisqueyanos to keep an eye on. Rojas, 31, played four years at Oklahoma Wesleyan University in the NAIA, hitting 14.5 points a game as a freshman and 26 as a senior. He has three years of NBA D-League experience and plays in Spain as an import. Araujo, 24, is a Spanish-Dominican dual citizen and has played in Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay and Spain. The holdovers from the 2019 FIBA World Cup squad are Araujo, Liz, Rigoberto Mendoza, Santos, Rojas and Gelvis Solano. The 6-1 Solano once played for Hunan in China’s NBL, averaging 31 points, 6.0 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 3.6 steals in eight games. He has also seen action in Argentina, Italy, Brazil, Mexico and Colombia. Solano played four years at Merrimack College, a D-2 school in Massachusetts, scoring at a 19.3 clip as a senior. The Dominican team is loaded with experience, three-point gunners and shifty wingmen. It’ll be a tough challenge for Gilas to beat the World No. 19 squad.

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