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Vargas, Venezuela hope for another incredible summer
CARACAS (2016 Rio Olympics) - Gregory Vargas is fully aware of how difficult it will be to recreate the magic of 2015. Just several months ago at the FIBA Americas Championship in Mexico City, the 1.82m point guard and his Venezuela teammates experienced the greatest high of their basketball careers. They won the title and qualified for the Olympics.
Vargas also had tremendous success with his club, Marinos de Anzoategui. He was a big part of the Marinos side that won 28 of its 36 regular-season games and then beat Guiaqueries de Margarita and Guaros de Lara in the play-offs. They celebrated a fifth straight title triumph.
The 2015 year was almost perfect for me, with Marinos de Anzoategui winning the title and with the national team we fought for the championship in the FIBA Americas in Mexico that allowed us to qualify for the Olympic Games. - Vargas
Vargas certainly can't complain with how 2016 has gone for him. He is playing well and winning games, and doing so in a new and exciting environment. Vargas is playing in Israel.
"Now I am in Israel (with Maccabi Haifa) and this experience is unforgettable," he said to Lideresendeportes.com.
"It's a very competitive basketball and that is an important motivation. It helps me keep growing both in a tactical sense and technically."
Vargas is clearly enjoying the experience in European basketball. He had one of his best outings last time out with 21 points, 10 assists and five rebounds in a 91-56 drubbing of perennial powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv.
If his fans back home are following his every move during his adventure in Israel, it's what happened in Mexico last year that occupies most of their thoughts. The team first upset Canada in a thrilling Semi-Final to seal a place in the Rio de Janeiro Games.
Vargas started in that win and had 9 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. He was also involved in the moments at the very end that allowed Venezuela to prevail.
Trailing by one, Venezuela's Heissler Guillent missed with a potential game-winning three-pointer. However, Vargas was fouled by Canada's Aaron Doornekamp while getting into position for a rebound. He made one of two free-throws for a 79-78 victory.
Venezuela then beat Argentina in the Final. That result capped an incredible tournament for the side coached by Nestor 'Che' Garcia. The national team had not gone into the event at full strength because of injuries, yet they played with determination and concentration.
Que bonito es despertarse con esta gran alegría y leer en los periódicos VENEZUELA CAMPEÓN DE AMÉRICA! Fue mucho sacrificio entrega corazón humildad y unión para lograr esta meta tan grande ! Demostramos que nada es imposible y que somo unos guerreros. Bendecido de formar parte de este gran equipo y de tener unos compañeros y staff de trabajo especiales! Digno ejemplo a seguir son todo ustedes hermanos @grillovargas @hguillent19 @johncox4 @cesargarcia22jp @marriaga4 @migueld_15 @javingervargas #dwighlewis #davidcubillan #windygraterol @kko59 @danielseoane !! Los gladiadores dorados de mexico #juntossomosmas
So what about the prospects for Venezuela in Rio? The men's tournament field has not been filled out, yet, and won't be until this summer.
There will be three six-team FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQTs), and the sides that win each will clinch places in Brazil. The OQTs will be held in Belgrade, Serbia, and Turin, Italy, 4-9 July. The other OQT will be staged in Manila, the Philippines, 5-10 July.
The vinotinto were reminded of how luck can play a part in a team's success when Guillent went down with a partial rupture of the Achilles tendon in late January. His presence in Brazil will be important for Venezuela. Everyone, including Vargas, is hoping he recovers in time to play.
Doctors, following surgery, were optimistic that he would make it back in time for the Olympics. Among those expecting Guillent to play in Rio is Juan Letizia, the Venezuela national team doctor.
If everything goes as normal, Heissler will be in Rio. There is time and he is a good patient. On previous occasions, I have worked with him and he has complied with all recommendations. -Letizia
There are many games to be played for Vargas and the other members of the national team on the club scene before they can turn their attention to Rio. What they will already know is that anything is possible.
Few picked a team that had not a single NBA player to accomplish what it did in Mexico City. If last summer proved anything, it was that a group of players that bond and play with heart can produce stunning results. Yes, 2015 is a tough act to follow but Venezuela have already proved that no one should count them out.