Gregory Echenique is watching the Olympic basketball competition with mixed emotions.
As a basketball player, the Creighton senior wants to keep track of how the United States team fares against the world. At the same time, Echenique will be dogged by thoughts that he could have been in London if things had worked out differently.
“I've reflected on that a lot,'' Echenique said. “But what happened motivates me. I'm young. If I can stay healthy and keep playing, maybe I'll have a shot at it another year.''
Echenique hoped to play in London as a member of the Venezuelan national team, one of 12 that competed in the final Olympic qualifying tournament earlier this month in Caracas.
Three spots in the London field were at stake, but the host country failed to get out of group play even though it had the same record as the two teams — Nigeria and Lithuania — that did.
Echenique said his team felt good about its chances even after it followed a 71-69 win over Nigeria with a 100-82 loss to Lithuania. Venezuela would have advanced to the knockout round if pool favorite Lithuania had defeated Nigeria.
Instead, the Nigerians, with the help of some big plays from former Nebraska player Ade Dagunduro, pulled an 86-80 upset and advanced because they and Lithuania had better point differentials than Venezuela.
“Everyone was saying it was a done deal (knockout round) when we won that first game because they didn't think Nigeria could beat Lithuania,'' said Echenique, who scored 15 points and had 15 rebounds in the two games. “Some people thought the Lithuanians threw that game away, but who am I to judge?
“It didn't seem like they approached the game the same way they did our game, but who knows? I do know that our group was the toughest. Two of the three teams that made it to the Olympics came out of our group.''
This was the second summer that Echenique played with his country's national team. Last year, he helped Venezuela finish fifth in the Americas Championships to advance to this year's final qualifying tournament.
“I've gained a lot of confidence,'' said Echenique, summing up his experiences of the past two summers. “Any time you can play on big stages, it's going to help you, especially in the mental part of the game.
“You know that you've been through a lot.''
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This summer's experience was definitely more hectic: He joined the national team in mid-June. The Venezuelan team played in two tournaments — one in Argentina, the other in Venezuela — in addition to a series of “friendly” games to prepare for the Olympic qualifier.
“We played and we traveled,'' Echenique said. “It was one plane to another, one hotel to another. At times, it almost seemed like I was on a professional team. We had little time to practice.''
That was one of Eric Musselman's regrets. The former NBA coach has been in charge of the Venezuelan team since 2011.
“We didn't have time for individual skill development due to so many tournaments and friendly games,'' he said.
In his two years of working with Echenique, Musselman has seen growth in the 6-foot-9 center. He particularly likes how Echenique has become more aggressive, both offensively and defensively, in pick-and-roll situations.
“He also continues to improve his mid-range 15-foot jump shot, and he was a force inside for us,'' Musselman said. “He had a great month with the national team. He did a great job battling against the front lines of Lithuania and Nigeria.
“He got a ton of exposure, and it was on a big stage. That will help him in the future.''
For Echenique, any focus on the future starts with the Creighton season that begins in 3½ months. The Bluejays are coming off a 29-win season and a trip to the third round of the NCAA tournament.
“We have to stay hungry so that we can have a good season,” Echenique said. “I'm excited. It's easy to get excited about this season.''
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