On Friday night, Belize’s national basketball team played for
the gold at the COCABA championships in Cancun. The stakes were high: the Belizean
team had battled adversity throughout the games to get to the championship again
– and they ended p facing the host country and tournament favourite, Mexico.
So how can a team from a country with a population of three hundred thousand
ever hope to challenge a team from a country of 110 million? With speed and
skill, that’s how. Jules Vasquez found out how close they came.
Jules Vasquez Reporting,
The hardware was on display as the players did their pre game stretches. The
Belizean cheering section was ready but on this night the Mexicans had us outnumbered
even had a wave going – or in this case, una onda. Extra security was
in place to make sure there were no incidents.
Belize came out pushing the ball and slashing its scrappiness contrasting with
the offensive precision and perimeter shooting of Mexico which seemed to have
a shooter at all 5 positions. But Belize had its own perimeter shooting: Marlon
Garnett was on fire from the three point line.
Belize pushed the ball even off made baskets – in this case Milton Palacio
driving and then kicking it out to Marlon Garnett for another three. That was
the strategy to keep the slower Mexicans on their heels by pushing the ball
up to court on every possession – in this case scoring with just 5 seconds
ticking off the shot clock. Or in this case, scoring in 6 seconds off a made basket. Marlon Garnett was even scoring three’s off the fast break as
Belize broke out to a 23 to 16 first quarter lead.
And while Belize had speed, Mexico had precision, exploiting Belize’s
weak interior defence leading Mexico to trim down the lead. Milt Palacio ended
the quarter with this last second shot to leave Belize up by three at the end
of the first.
In the second quarter the Mexicans stepped up their defence smothering Marlon
Garnett. Romel Beck’s array of skills, and Noe Alonzo’s shooting
would be the difference makers and they led Mexico to take a commanding 9 point
lead into the locker room at the half meaning a 12 point scoring differential
in Mexico’s favour in the second period. But Belize battled back, in the
third quarter the attack would be led by Milton Palacio who brought Belize to
within 4 with this bucket – and Alex Carcamo who on this hustle play kept
it at within 5 and on this tough turnaround, he brought it back to four.
Free throws by Garnett would give Belize a one point lead at the end of the
third quarter in this up and down game. Mexico had deep scoring too –
this three would put them back on top by 1 and this other shot by Alonzo again
would put them up three with five minutes left – while Rommel Beck pushed
it to 5.
Still, Belize remained poised, and Marlon Garnett’s eighth three of the
night tied it with under three minutes left. Marlon Garnett continued his incredible
shooting to give Belize a one point lead with 1:47 remaining. The Mexicans went
to their go to guy Horacio Llamas who was too deep in the paint for an outsized
Alex Carcamo to stop to give Mexico a one point lead. Mexico would score another
two to go ahead by three with 39.5 seconds remaining.
Marlon Garnett curled off a baseline screen and responded with this three his tenth of the night to tie it up with thirty seconds to play. Belize immediately
went into a trapping defense which Horacio exploited by slipping his defender
and cutting down the middle for what looked to be an open lay-up until he was
stripped from behind Keenan Jourdon.
The ref called it as flagrant – meaning two free throws possession of
the ball (24:06) but look again, it is not even a personal foul, it is a clean
strip, “lone ball” as they say, and not a difficult play to make
on a three hundred and twenty pound man who is lumbering towards the rim. But
despite protestation, the bad call stood, Llamas converted his free throws and
on the possession belize was forced to foul Pedroza, who scored only one of
his free throws – leaving the lead at three with 15 seconds remaining.
Milton Palacio brought the ball up court, Marlon Garnett came off a baseline
screen on the left side, but the Mexicans switched on everything leaving Gustavo
Ayon, a seven footer on Garnett. When Garnett was doubled, he was forced to
toss it back to Palacio, and Ayon switched back over, and his three with time running out his three pointer didn’t have a prayer. A sad ending for what
had been a miraculous run but the team remained dignified.
And they were appreciated at home- that was apparent when they arrived at the
Phillip Goldson International and they were greeted as heroes. Outside, the
airport looked like a carnival as the motorcade got organized and the team was
Marlon Garnett, Team Belize
“Man we in the building. We brought back the silver but it’s
And while Alex Carcamo took a sip from the cup of pride, the patriotic spirit
was on display and the flags were everywhere. Belizeans stood or jumped up on
sidewalks, verandahs, truck backs, and even a Minister on a day off came out
to cheer. It was spirited on street corners and sentimental on sidewalks and
emotional in Charlie Burgess’s family’s neighbourhood.
In all, the motorcade took about two and a half hours to wend its way through
the city in a patriotic frenzy. It ended at the City Center where the drums
set the stage for an extended autograph session and an opportunity for the captain
of the national team and the captain of the ship of state to have an informal
chat before the big speech.
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
“When we all come together Belizeans living at home and Belizeans living abroad and we will use all our resources to get to the top of the highest
possible mountains. Congratulations again to all the members of Team Belize.
Congratulations to the organizers, to those who put this team together, and
before I close I want to make you one promise: I will find the funds to build
a dedicated first class basketball facility. The achievement of Team Belize
deserves no less.”
“God is great. The President of CDB happened to be here on Thursday,
had come to talk to me about the fact that CDB wants to have a general capital
increase and wants to ramp up its lending to the borrowing member countries
in the light of the global crisis. And one of the first things I said to him
was in terms of the new lending program, the Belizean projects that we will
put in the pipeline, can you lend for a basketball facility and he said that
in the context of urban rejuvenation, in the context of the social problems
that we are having in Belize City, he thought the answer was yes.
If I can ultimately come through in terms of doing something to concretely
signal and underline the gratitude that we feel as a nation, the gratitude that
the government feels, then I am afraid I will have to, I am not even going to
contemplate that – it’s going to happen.”
“You know we were robbed and I know there is no official protest.”
Hon. Dean Barrow,
“We was robbed.”
“We was robbed and I know there is no official protest to be filed but
I would hope that whenever you see the Mexican President you can indicate to
him that you know you owe us one.”
Hon. Dean Barrow,
“I think he is the next one we will ask for the stadium.”
The Prime Minister gave each player a signed flag.
“Going through the streets today, did you feel the love?”
Milton Palacio, Team Belize
“Ahh it was great man. You cannot even explain it. You cannot explain
what the parade was about. I told Alex that in 1998 it wasn’t even like
this and we won gold so coming here and winning silver was great.”
“You got cold seed, goose bumps?”
“Of course man it is great because you know the country is behind
you and that is biggest thing. Everybody was positive, everybody was saying
in our hearts we are number one, even though we won the silver.”
“I’ve seen you in Serbia with Valde hugging you up and you are rousing
the crowd, how does this compare to that?”
“I think it is more because you are playing for your country. I played
in Serbia and it was good but playing for your country is even better and even
It’s of note that the Mexican team shot 62% from the field and
68% from the three point line – and it’s virtually impossible to
beat a team that’s allowed to shoot that well. Belize shot 48% from the
field and 52% from three led by Marlon Garnett’s ten three-pointers. He
ended with a game high 43 points. As regards the basketball facility discussed
by the Prime Minister, he said he will also ask the Venezuelans for assistance
as they plan to hold the next petrocaribe summit in Belize. And we’ll
have much more from Cancun later on in the newscast as Keith Swift takes us
inside the journey of the Belize team.