Los 12 Guerreros, Mexico’s Other National Team, Eye Return to Olympics After 39 Years

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The last time the Mexican National Basketball Team (MNBT) participated in the Summer Olympics, the year was 1976. The Boston Celtics had just defeated the Phoenix Suns in the NBA playoffs, Gerald Ford was the president of the United States, and every member of the current MNBT had not been born yet.

Exactly 39 years have passed since that historic moment, but this week the 12 Guerreros have made an extraordinary run in the 2015 FIBA Americas Championships in Mexico City. They’re not only galvanizing a nation of soccer fans, but they’re also one game away from qualifying for the 2016 Summer Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, if they win against top-ranked Argentina today.

The FIBA Americas Qualifying Tournament hosts teams from nearly every country in the Americas, including Panama, Canada, Argentina, Mexico, and more. However, only the top two teams receive an automatic bid to play in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

But Mexican basketball is shining bright, as Mexico’s roster is laden with incredible talent from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, relentless defensive schemes, and a Spanish coach with international experience. The team’s key players are former NBA player Gustavo Ayón (who currently plays in the ACB, the top Spanish league), Jorge Gutiérrez, who now plays for the NBA Milwaukee Bucks, and former Fresno State University standout Hector Hernández, who played in the top Israeli league last season.

What an amazing comeback! Congratulations #12Guerreros ?? #fibaamericas2015 A photo posted by McDavid (@mcdavid_usa) on

In addition, the MNBT is without Los Angeles native and former UCLA standout Lorenzo Mata, who has been a fixture on the MNBT and has held short stints with the Los Angeles Lakers.

While Mexico’s current FIBA Americas Championship run and sold out tournament games certainly signify a growing popularity for the sport in Mexico, former San Antonio Spur and Mexican National Team player Anthony Pedroza believes that Mexico’s recent success has been driven by “consistency with the same coaching staff and players, young guys who are now playing as veterans, and heart and passion – they are a hungry team who leave it all out on the court.” Pedroza added, “I’m definitely proud of the guys for creating a household name brand in the sport of basketball for years to come.”

It seems like the future of Mexican basketball rests in good hands.