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1 Rafael Pinzon (PUR)
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Rafael Andrés Pinzón, the prototype Puerto Rico hoped for

SAN JUAN (Puerto Rico) — At 16 years of age, Rafael Pinzón’s anatomy catches everyone’s eye. His 6 feet and 5 inches of ability and boasting arms so long that he can corner an entire defense, then bring the ball to the floor to elegantly reach the rim or pass it on to a teammate for a completely open shot.

Pinzón is part of the Puerto Rican national team that achieved a silver medal during the recently concluded U17 Centrobasket Championship in San Juan. The stellar point/shooting guard ended the tournament with an average of 17 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists per game, a +16 efficiency.

The first two minutes of two of the first-round games were a great portrayal of the versatility that Pinzón has to offer. First, he gracefully and with no hesitation whatsoever scores a three-pointer that places Puerto Rico in the upside, 3-0, against the Virgin Islands in what would eventually be a convincing victory. In the second game, against El Salvador, Pinzon dribbled behind his back, stopping the defense on their tracks, and then deposited the ball on the basket with his left hand.

Days later, in the semifinals round against the courageous Dominican Republic, Pinzón stepped up with 28 points to carry Puerto Rico to the ticket to the final round.

Fans at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum thought they were witnessing a flashback of Puerto Rican player Raymond “Richie” Dalmau. The 6’5” point guard dribbles with the left hand, is intelligent and creates attack situations on every possession. And precisely many of the people present at the game were legends of Boricua basketball, such as Raymond Dalmau (Richie's father) and his youngest son Ricardo, as well as Edgar Padilla, and Eddie Casiano — the senior national team coach.

“For me, it's better than playing in any club. I'm representing my country and I'm home. It's another feeling,” said Pinzón to FIBA.basketball about the chance of wearing the national uniform in Puerto Rican land.

Pinzón’s performances have already brought him several offers for collegiate basketball, but they’ll have to wait at least two more years because the young basketball player will conclude high school in 2021. Georgia Tech, Mercer and Dayton have already made offers to Pinzón. All this after being exported to school level basketball in the United States, where he plays at Georgia’s Lincoln Academy. In Arecibo, his hometown, he played at Colegio San Felipe. 

“Rafael Pinzón is the type of point guard that we didn't have here for a long time,” said his coach, Jorge Rincón. “He’s a tall 6’5” point guard, just like Richie Dalmau in his times. He’s a guy that goes for the close shot, he makes good decisions, he’s taller than the rest of the players and this allows him to make a good pass, he does a great job going in, he's very intelligent, he's a prospect that we haven’t seen for some time here in Puerto Rico.”

Every time Pinzón is in the court he showcases a cooperative game style. He always tries to make the right call, many times favoring making a pass at his teammate than taking the shot himself.

“I think that my role is to make my teammates better, that they look well in the court, run the system to elevate the game level, defend and win a gold medal,” said Pinzón before the final.

When he's not listening to music by Almighty, his favorite urban music artist, Pinzón is in the court perfecting his game. He mainly works on his long-distance shots, the only defensive weapon that the point/shooting guard needs to add to his arsenal to enable him to be almost impossible to defend. Outside the court, the star player dreams of becoming a physiatrist or physical therapist, an interest that he could've developed after a knee injury he suffered in 2018 and that took him out of the courts for almost a year. Pinzón still tries to recover a hundred percent from it.

He's the prospect that for quite some time the Puerto Rico national team wished to have in their ranks, a long-term project that promises to be an international star for the Boricuas.

“Each time we see Pinzón playing he keeps improving. There's no limit to his potential,” said senior national men's team Eddie Casiano. “He's a tall point guard. A European point guard. He can be compared to Richie or to Fico López. It all depends on how he develops his physical and mental skills.”

Like many other young ballers, Pinzón’s dream is to play for the NBA like his favorite player, Kobe Bryant. The truth is that at least he has already been favored by all genetic lotteries. He’s an example of the figures that promise to carry Puerto Rico forward in the next generation. In the words of Mexican team coach Enrique Zúñiga after facing him in the U-17 Centrobasket final, “Pinzón is very good. I think he's the future of the Puerto Rican national team.”