While current Toronto Raptor Greivis Vásquez may be Venezuela’s most popular basketball player, a dozen of his countrymen have just earned an automatic bid to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, with a win over Argentina in the FIBA Americas Championship held in Mexico City this past weekend.
As a nation that is more widely recognized for its unending supply of talented Major League baseball players (like Miguel Cabrera and José Tábata), Venezuelan basketball has made its mark on the world basketball stage, thanks to star players like Heissler Guillent.
But what’s the reason behind the recent success of Venezuelan basketball?
Some point to the the global exposure of the NBA, while others trace it back to the cultivation of local Venezuelan talent like Guillent, who, before becoming a professional, starred in amateur leagues throughout Venezuela.
Since 1974, La Liga Profesional de Baloncesto (LPB), or Venezuela’s professional basketball league, has featured 10 teams from nearly every major Venezuelan city with locals, as well as import players from around the world.
But like Greivis Vásquez, who played on his high school basketball team in Washington D.C. at Montrose Christian School alongside Kevin Durant and current Japanese league star point guard Taishi Ito, Venezuelan players have also made the journey to the U.S. to pursue their hoop dreams. In addition, basketball’s visibility in Venezuela has been raised by an influx of nationals who are currently playing in top leagues around the world.
This combination of local talent and access to high-level basketball around the world should continue to produce a Venezuelan national team with the ability to earn medals in upcoming Olympics.