BUENOS AIRES – For a lot of the young athletes here the honor of representing their country is a process that can take weeks or months and heartache or joy. The single goal – to represent.
For Jackie Vargas-Bines, a 6-3 high school freshman from Maple Glen, PA (Upper Dublin H.S.) it was a rollercoaster ride.
Vargas-Bines was asked to join the Puerto Rican u16 women’s national team a week before they made the transit to Buenos Aires to compete in the 2017 u16 FIBA Americas tournament. And, she would have to compete against the United States with its powerhouse lineup including two of her Philadelphia Belles program mates.
“Yeah, it’s been crazy,” said Vargas-Bines who scored 17 points and 9 rebounds to give her Puerto Rican team a 76-69 win over Dominican Republic for 7th place. “I was asked a week ago to come down and play for the team.”
“It’s obviously hard obviously because I am from the USA and I am Puerto Rican,” said Vargas-Bines about playing against the USA. “I look at this as a learning experience and an opportunity to get better no matter what team you’re on.”
Vargas-Bines was one of three players who joined the PR team from this competition. There were at least five other top notch players from the New York City region who have Puerto Rican heritage to compete here. Some players even skip this to attempt to make a deeper and more stronger USA talent pool.
There are other Latin American teams that could also have used “ex-pat” players who live in the United States to build their rosters but because of economics, home country politics and lack of federation planning this is usually not the case.
Vargas-Bines made the decision to play for Puerto Rico and had to undergo what her mother Judith Bines called a “quick immersion” in the Spanish language. “I really didn’t know a lot of Spanish before I came down here,” laughed Vargas-Bines. “A lot of times when the coach would yell out instructions I didn’t understand what he (Luis Morillo) was saying.”
As for seeing her fellow Philadelphia Belles players on the USA roster, (Celeste Taylor, Valley Stream, NY and Kylee Watson, Linwood, NJ) who are on the top Belles team, “I don’t really know them that well, it was fine,” Vargas-Bines remembered. “It was kinda weird that we’re on the same team and then to play against them here.”
Puerto Rico finished 1-4 and 7th place while Mexico, the 2015 4th place finisher beats Venezuela 71-28 for 5th place and does not qualify for the 2018 u17 World Championships.
The host Argentina needed overtime from a tough Columbia team that knocked out Mexico from contention in the final two minutes to capture 3rd place 52-49. Both teams will qualify for the 2018 u17 World Championships.