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Raulzinho inspiring for Brazil
GRANADA (FIBA Basketball World Cup) - Over the past few years, Raul Neto has been tipped as a potential leader for Brazil in years to come, and in Saturday's 65-63 triumph over France he showed why in their 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup opener in Granada.
"Raulzinho", as he is known, was the inspiring force Brazil needed to overcome a sloppy start against the EuroBasket 2013 champions.
France led by as many as seven points early in the game, until the 22-year-old - the youngest in a squad with an average age of 31 - came off the bench, replacing team captain Marcelinho Huertas and scored four straight points to give Brazil a 28-26 half-time lead.
Although Huertas made the biggest impact for the South American with a game-high 16 points, Raulzinho, who poured in six points and an impressive ball handling, was credited for reinventing his team's offense game during his 17 minutes spent on floor.
Even after the break, head coach Ruben Magnano picked Neto to restart, over Huertas.
"Every time he comes in the game, he controls the tempo, and always brings something new," Huertas said afterwards.
"It does not matter how long I spend on the bench because there is always someone coming up to contribute to the team, and he (Raulzinho) did well."
Raulzinho, who plays for UCAM Murcia in the Spanish ACB Liga Endesa, is playing in his second World Cup, after making his debut at Turkey 2010 at the age of 18, and he had only one thing in mind when he is to discuss his presence in the national team.
"I just want to help the team," he said.
Although Huertas is only nine years his senior, Raulzinho says the FC Barcelona point guard has played a part in his passion for the game of basketball and has been the player he always admired and wanted to emulate.
"He has been my inspiration over the years. When I started to play basketball he was already playing for the national team. Now it is a realization to me to be playing alongside him," Neto said.
Huertas, who made his debut for the senior team at the 2005 FIBA Americas Championship at the age of 22, responded: "He (Raulzinho) is already a great player. He keeps improving his game every day, and I hope he can become a top player not only in Europe but potentially in the NBA."
Nine of the players in this Brazil squad represented the country at the FIBA World Championship four years ago, and 11 out of 12 played at the 2012 London Olympics.
And, if there is one potential fit to wear the green-yellow jersey at 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Raulzinho is clearly one of them.
Brazil face Iran on Sunday, before facing the host nation on Monday.