Argentine hunger feeds Brazil basketball ambition

RIO DE JANEIRO Fri May 11, 2012 2:37am EDT

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Overcome adversity, play as a team, never think of defeat, hunger for medals. Coach Ruben Magnano's tenets for success have guided Brazil's basketball team to their first Olympics in 16 years and given them genuine hope of a podium place in London.

While they may sound like sporting clich├ęs, Argentine Magnano used those same ingredients to steer his own country to the gold medal at the 2004 Athens Games.

He told Reuters there was no reason why those principles could not result in a medal for Brazil, who won Olympic bronze medals in 1948, 1960 and 1964.

"If I manage to be competitive in my practices, the chances are there to get a medal," Magnano said in a telephone interview on Thursday.

He reflected on the characteristics that lifted Argentina's "golden generation" to the title in Athens.

"The first thing that comes to mind is that team's hunger for a medal. Of course, there are technical and tactical attributes but above all the hunger they had to fight for a medal," Magnano added.

Asked whether Brazil had shown that same determination to go after a medal, he said emphatically: "Of course they have. They showed it at the pre-Olympic (tournament). It was clear how to play as a team, what a team feels, they were an example.

"There's no doubt once they had qualified they were already dreaming of their chances at the Olympic Games in London.

"It will be a completely new competition for them, but that will feed that hunger we need to fight for medals."

Brazil booked their ticket to London after finishing second to hosts Argentina in last year's qualifying tournament in the Argentine resort of Mar del Plata.

Brazil beat Argentina in the second round of the tournament, but when they faced each other in the final it was the hosts who came out on top.

NBA DEBATE

Brazil's qualifying success was down to a team-first mentality. Tiago Splitter was the only one of the four Brazilians in the NBA to play for the team.

Anderson Varejao was picked but then had to pull out through injury while Nene and Leandrinho turned down their call-ups.

Qualifying without those players sparked a national debate over whether they should be picked for the Olympics, with Oscar Schmidt, who played at five Games, one of the loudest voices against their inclusion.

Magnano left the doors open to all from the start but he will keep his cards hidden until May 17 when he is to name his squad to begin Olympic training.

"I don't think Brazil can afford to close doors and should look at each (player's) case calmly and intelligently," said Magnano, who will name 16 players for training and warm-up tournaments before cutting the squad down to 12 for the Games.

On court, whatever his line-up, Magnano wants to see in London the same style as the qualifiers - strong defence and a collective effort with the points distributed among the players.

"We mustn't change absolutely anything we did in the pre-Olympic. Those must be the characteristics of our game, always putting the value of the team above the individual talents."

In London, Brazil will look to advance from their group at least in third place to avoid a possible quarter-final clash with favorites the United States, who are expected to win the other group.

Cheered by Argentine fans when he led Brazil against the hosts at the qualifying tournament, Magnano said he would like another encounter with his former team. The two sides could meet in the semi-finals.

"If we meet Argentina it will mean we've done a good job up to that point."

(Writing by Rex Gowar; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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