CARACAS, Venezuela -- Creighton men's basketball standout Gregory Echenique will try to lead his native country of Venezuela to the London Olympics in this week's 2012 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament. The 12-team tournament begins Monday and wraps up Sunday in Caracas, Venezuela, with three spots for the Olympics up for grabs.
Venezuela is guaranteed two games, but could play up to five, in its bid to reach the Olympics. The tourney hosts, ranked 22nd in the world
according to FIBA, play No. 21 Nigeria on Monday evening before taking on No. 5 Lithuania on Tuesday night. Eight of the tournament's 12 teams will advance to Thursday's single-elimination quarterfinal round.
Of the 12 teams in the field, Venezuela is ranked eighth-best, trailing Greece (4), Lithuania (5), Russia (11), Angola (15), Puerto Rico (16), New Zealand (18) and Nigeria (21), and ahead of Dominican Republic (25), Jordan (28), Korea (31) and Macedonia (33). So far nine men’s national teams (Argentina, Australia,
Brazil, China, France, Great Britain, Spain, Tunisia and USA) have
Venezuela has reached the Olympics just one time previously in
basketball, when it finished 11th of 12 teams in 1992. Should Venezuela
advance, Echenique would have the opportunity to join American Willard Schmidt
(in 1936) as the only Creighton players to appear in an Olympic basketball competition.
Echenique, who will be a senior at Creighton this season, was named MVC Defensive Player of the Year in 2011-12 after averaging 9.7
points, 7.3 rebounds and owned a league-best 57 blocked shots last
season. Coached by Greg McDermott, the Bluejays tied a school record with 29 wins last season and advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.