31 August, 2019
15 September
33 Ronald Roberts (DOM)
Long Read
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Part of the DNA: Passion for sports runs in the family for Dominican players at the World Cup

SHENZHEN (China) - Playing on the world stage for a first time is not always easy, having to deal with those anxious moments of delivering for your country. But a quartet of Dominican Republic players at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 can rely on the input from family members who have already made a name in sports.

Ronald Roberts and Dagoberto Pena are both appearing at their first global spectacle. But their mothers actually played together with Dominicana on their chest - though neither had the chance to play at a world competition since Dominican Republic women's teams have never reached the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup or the Olympics.  Roberts' mother Dania Santos played for Dominican Republic from 1984 to 1993 - two years after Ronald was born. And she played a major role in getting him to play for her homeland.

"She is very proud. Ever since I was young, she was pushing me to play with the Dominican Republic team," said Roberts, whose father Ronald Roberts Sr. was a basketball standout in college and then played 10 years as a professional in Brazil, Dominican Republic, Portugal and Spain.  

"I was born in America and grew up in America but it's definitely an honor to represent the country and it's a big deal for her."

While Roberts was born and raised in the United States, Pena lived in Dominican Republic in the shadow of his mother Cristina Montilla, being nicknamed "el hijo de Cristina" or "the son of Cristina". Montilla represented the Dominicans from 1977 to 1986, playing with Roberts' mother Santos at the 1984 Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

"In the Dominican Republic, I was known for being her kid. And growing up to that is an honor for me, having my mom be one of the best players in Dominican history, one of the best centers," Pena said.

Despite his family's excellence in the game, Pena bouncing the basketball much less playing at the World Cup was far from a foregone conclusion. Not only did he grow up in the Dominican Republic, whose national past time is baseball. But Pena's Cuban father was a huge baseball fan and wanted his son to play on the diamond  rather than on the court. Not to mention the fact that Pena was a very good baseball player.

"Unfortunately for my luck, I was better at baseball than basketball growing up," Pena said.

Pena was even good enough as a pitcher - throwing over 90 miles an hour - that he received an offer of 300 thousand dollars from the Major League Baseball team Colorado Rockies as a 16-year-old. Pena listened to his instincts and turned it down to play basketball - just about breaking his father's heart.

"I didn't have that passion in baseball. I love the passion of basketball. I was a pitcher in baseball and it was kind of boring. I like the action that basketball always has something going on," Pena explained. "When I made the decision, my dad basically wanted to kill me. But it happened and I took the decision and I don't regret it. I never thought I would play a World Cup with these guys that I have known for 15 years."

Roberts and Pena are not the only two Dominican players in Shenzhen who can call back home to the Caribbean to ask family for advice.

Ronald Ramon playing defense against Jordan

Ronald Ramon is the son of Ricardo Ramon, who played professionally in Dominican Republic, Brazil and Argentina in the last 1980s and 1990s. The father was nicknamed "El Barbero" for his play under the boards with Mauricio Baez and San Carlos.

Juan Miguel Suero meanwhile is enjoying his first taste of global basketball. 

"It's a dream for me. It's the first time at a World Cup. It's just a big dream for any athlete to compete at the highest level of basketball," said Suero, who played at the continental level for the first time at FIBA AmeriCup 2017.

Suero almost had his brother Gerardo Suero here on the court in China as well. The 26-year-old Juan Miguel played six games in the Americas Qualifiers while his older brother Gerardo appeared in four games but did not make the final team for Shenzhen.

"Every brother who plays basketball would love to have his brother here. But it's not possible. I am happy that I am here, and he is very happy too," Suero said.

Juan Miguel not only has his brother to talk about international competition but also his father. Gerardo Suero competed for Dominican Republic at the 1980 Summer Olympics in the 100 meter and 200 meter disciplines, finishing fourth in the 100m dash. 


"My father always says to get prepared and be ready so that I can achieve what I want to achieve in life, to always be on the right path and make sure that I always did things right and enjoy this time here," Juan Miguel Suero said.

Of course, all 12 of the Dominican players will have great stories to tell about their time in China. But Suero, Roberts, Pena and Ramon all will have family back home who can really relate to those experiences because they have had similar ones already.