Mexico out to defend Centrobasket crown


Regional pride is on the line in Panama as 10 nations descend on the Central American nation for the 2016 FIBA Centrobasket.

Title holders Mexico return to defend their crown, with a 12-man squad headlined by Charlotte Hornets point guard Jorge Gutierrez.

Gutierrez is the only NBA player involved in the tournament, with a host of Euroleague talent spread throughout the competing teams.

Also in Mexico's squad is recently returned centre Lorenzo Mata, who is looking to reprise the key role he played in Mexico's 2013 FIBA Americas Championship after a horror run with injuries that saw him miss out on the Centrobasket triumph two years ago.

And while a gold medal is on Mata's mind, he is hoping to use the tournament to boost his chances of going to Rio de Janeiro for the upcoming Olympic Games.

"It will be great for me to play the Centrobasket, but the whole team will use the tournament to grab the tempo and adjust to the overall operation of the team. That tournament will help us be on the same page for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament," he said.

"We have to be focused. It is great to have [coach] Sergio [Valdeolmillos] back on the bench, he knows us well. He imposed a game style, he knows what needs to be corrected and what it takes to win."

Mexico are sure to be favourites, however, despite the usual competition from Puerto Rico, who hold the record for most gold medals at the tournament with 10 titles.

This, despite the fact that the Puerto Ricans hardly ever send their best players to the tournament, with Dallas Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea among the bigger names to sit out this time.

Former Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic and Miami Heat man Carlos Arroyo was also left out of Puerto Rico's squad.

Despite that, Puerto Rico's largely domestic-based squad is on average the joint-tallest in the competition, alongside Panama, who both stand at an average height of 198 centimetres.

Three-time champions Panama join Puerto Rico in Group A alongside Nicaragua, Antigua and Barbuda and Cuba, while Group B is comprised of Mexico, Costa Rica, Bahamas, U.S. Virgin Islands and Dominican Republic.