Unheralded 'little' Dominican squad relishing cutting rivals down to size
SHANGHAI - The Dominican Republic, tied with the Philippines as the shortest team at the FIBA World Cup, is proving that size isn't everything after winning its first two games.
The Caribbean nation surged into the second round of the tournament on Tuesday with a gutsy 70-68 victory over favored Germany, to go with an opening 80-76 win over Jordan.
"Maybe for a lot of people we are the tournament surprise," said the Dominicans' Argentine coach Nestor Garcia after seeing off the Germans. "We believe in ourselves and now we enjoy this moment.
"But this is only one game, this team can do more things in the World Cup."
Their place in the next round assured, the 54-year-old Garcia's men are now sizing up France on Thursday with Group G supremacy at stake.
The Dominicans' tallest player is the 6-foot-11 center Eloy Vargas and the average height of their roster is 6-foot-4, according to FIBA statistics.
That makes them, along with the Philippines - twice heavy losers in the tournament - the shortest team of the 32 in the competition.
The tallest team is Serbia, which averages 6-foot-9.
The Dominicans will again be staring upwards at their opponents when they face France (average height 6-foot-8), but forward Ronald Roberts said what they lose in height they make up for in other ways.
"We played with a lot of energy. They couldn't match the energy the whole game and that was the biggest thing," said Roberts, who plays club basketball in France, after the Germany victory in Shenzhen.
"We needed to bring the energy. We're the underdogs. We're a little bit smaller than these other teams, but we play harder and that's what's going to keep us going."
There are a record 54 NBA players at the World Cup - but none represent the Dominican Republic because Garcia is without Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Philadelphia 76ers' Al Horford.
That makes the job done by Garcia - a veteran of nearly 30 years' coaching in South America and latterly Spain - all the more commendable.
He saw the funny side following the win over Germany when, in the absence of a Spanish translator in Shenzhen, he acted as a stand-in to interpret the comments of star performer Victor Liz, who finished with 17 points, five rebounds and four assists.
"I did my job, I don't want to be a translator, I've already finished my job," joked Garcia.
But taking a more serious turn, he gave an insight into the way that he handles his men when they are facing adversity - and inevitably taller opponents.
"The world has changed," he said, sounding more philosopher than coach.
"Before, in the past, if you see, you believe. That was my father's school of thinking.
"Now, if you believe, you see."
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