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13 Alex Perez (MEX), 11 Paolo Quinteros (ARG)
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Paolo Quinteros and the joy of wearing the adored jersey once again

LA RIOJA (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Americas Qualifiers) - Less than two months away from his 40th birthday, Paolo Quinteros received the news that he had expected for a long time and thought would never come. He was called again to the Argentine national basketball team. The number 11, the same he had worn in his last participation with the national squad, waited for him to return to that elite group. “It was a mix of emotions. When I put the national team’s jersey in the locker room, I felt like it was the first time. I had the same feelings as when I debuted with Argentina. I was happy, I enjoyed the games a lot, and the daily life,” said Quinteros. The shooting guard turns back time to a couple of days ago to describe the moment he learned he was being called: “When they told me the news of being called, I had just finished to train, and I stayed in the locker rooms for a minute, just reflecting. And a lot of images came back of the last time I played for the national team at the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship at Mar del Plata, where all games took place in front of a full stadium.”

When the calendar turned to Thursday, November 29, his return materialized. Paolo was in the starting line-up to face the United States and marked a new record: with 39 years and 318 days of age, he was the oldest player in history to play for the Argentine national team (on December 2 he beat his own record as he played against Mexico). His start wasn’t ideal. A bad collective moment and a poor individual performance in the attack: he missed his first 6 attempts at the rim. The first points in his personal tally appeared in the third quarter, and the first three-pointer — his specialty — waited until the last period. “I wasn’t nervous, but I was cautious. I had to learn the systems in two days, it wasn't just anything what we were playing for. Each ball was very important and that takes you to be less authentic, to be less of what you are in your club. But the important thing was for the team to win and if that wasn’t calibrated on the attack, it could be good in the defense. Although I did make some very good shots, many didn’t go in. But I chose to remember the victories,” Paolo explains.

The Regatas Corrientes shooting guard is aware of the role he must occupy in this new turn in the national team: “Despite I'm the most veteran of players in this squad and I have a lot of experience, I was very respectful of the process of these guys that have been playing together for so much time, and in all windows. This was my first time after a long period and I had to take the place where I belonged. I came to be another one in the team and not to seek any prominence.” He also adds: “With the only person I had spent some time in the national team had been with Luis. I knew the rest because I had faced them in the National League or because I had played with a couple of them. Despite the age difference, they included me very nicely. They're respectful kids and I'm very thankful that they showed me respect. All the same, they would sometimes tease me about my age. They would tell me that I was the new project of Argentine basketball.”

Paolo Quinteros, up until these two games for the World Cup qualification, had played 10 tournaments with the Argentine national team. Since his debut in the 2003 Campeonato Sudamericano against Chile, until the FIBA Americas Championship in 2011. During that time, he had a lot of trouble finding a place in the definitive rosters, especially when Argentina presented their best players. In his position, they had a spot saved for Emanuel Ginóbili and Carlos Delfino. “I never gave up on that, quite to the contrary. It cost me a lot to get in and have the chance because of the presence of two monsters like Manu and Carlitos, but all the same, I was able to do it. And that for me is a great prize. Being their bodyguard was a greater achievement. If they wouldn’t have played, I could've been in the national team, but surely Argentina wouldn’t have reached so many successes,” Quintero analyzes.

Paolo’s most outstanding performances with the Argentina jersey were more than ten years ago. In 2007, in Las Vegas, he averaged 11.2 points per game in a heroic feat of the Argentine side that, with notable absences, managed to qualify to the Olympic Games. “At that 2007 FIBA Americas Championship Sergio gave me all the confidence. We played a great tournament and were able to qualify to Beijing,” he remembers. And in 2008, although in fact he didn’t play much in the Olympic Games, he had his great moment. On August 22, Manu Ginóbili was injured in a game against the United States. Two days later, Quinteros scored 11 points (3 of 4 in 3 Pts.) in 15 minutes against Lithuania and won the bronze medal. “I had more minutes and made the most of them. Alongside Leo Gutiérrez we scored consecutive three-pointers that were important for us to take off in the scoreboard,” he reminisces.

In those glowing performances and in this unexpected comeback there’s one person who's responsible for shining a special light on Quinteros’ career. And that's Sergio Hernández. “He’s all in my career. He trusted me and gave me the opportunity to play in the National League. He took the most he could out of me and always trusted me. After winning it all in Estudiantes de Olavarría he took me to Boca and then to the national team. I'm very grateful for having him as a coach and for all the opportunities he gave me,” the shooting guard acknowledges.

Paolo's maturity and intelligence keeps him grounded regarding his continuity in the Argentine team: “I know that for now, it was only those two games. I'm very aware that there are young players with a lot of talent and that they will represent us in the different competitions. You must give them their space just like they did with us. I'm just enjoying being here now. I’m not getting my hopes up so that I don’t hit myself against a wall. There are great talents in my position, such as Nico Brussino and Lucio Redivo, and Luca Vildoza and Nico Laprovittola, who can also play as shooting guards. They should be the ones who carry the weight of the national team.” And if this was the last time that he was called for the team, Quinteros will remember this opportunity with joy: “If I'm not called again, which is very likely, I will take these two games as a good close to my stage in the national team. I had an unfinished business to deal with and now that’s over. When the time comes to retire, and I go over my career, I’ll remember that this cycle ended well.”

The smile on Paolo Quinteros’ face can't be erased. Although he's the oldest player in history to wear the Argentine jersey, he enjoyed it like a child that is given the chance to play for the first time.

Pablo Cormick