Thursday, September 18, 2014

Joey Cantens Recaps Summer With Dominican Republic National Team

It all started with a simple phone call four years ago. Joey Cantens reached out to then Kentucky assistant coach Orlando Antigua in hopes of watching the Dominican Republic at training camp in Lexington.

"My goal was to watch the practices, and I was just trying to learn," Cantens said. "Being young and new in the business, I was just looking for a learning opportunity watching practices.

The basketball minded Cantens, fluent in both Spanish and English, stuck and "next thing I knew, I was applying for a Visa to go to Brazil that summer."

Since then, Cantens has worked on John Calipari's staff every summer as they made continual progress in FIBA competition. Led by multiple NBA players, including Al Horford, the Dominican Republic captured third place in the FIBA America Championships in 2011, landing them a spot in the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

This spring, the Florida Gulf Coast director of basketball operations left his position in Dunk City to continue his work with the national team, as well as with Leones de Ponce (a club team in the Dominican).

During the first portion of this summer, Cantens served as a delegate to the federation under new head coach Orlando Antigua (Calipari stepped down in 2013).

"I was in charge of all team operations," Cantens said. "Including game schedule, practices, travel, etc. [for the Olympic qualifying in Mexico]"

As the team shifted focus towards the World Games in Spain, Cantens took on a role as equipment manager but had a hands-on approach on the floor.

"It's not like the NCAA where they have I am allowed to be on the floor, unlike my operations role at FGCU," Cantens said. "And of course I was a translator."

The Dominican Republic entered the FIBA World Cup ranked 26th in the world and, like many other countries, were heavy underdogs.

"The biggest challenge this summer was managing the players' health because it was a 2.5 month summer. All these players are pros and make money elsewhere so you have to be careful not wearing their bodies out," Cantens said. "So I think our federation had a great idea making two teams for this summer so that our guys did not wear out."

Led by Rockets guard Francisco Garcia (17.6 points per game), they exceeded all expectations by escaping pool play and qualifying for the 2nd round for the first time in Dominican history.

"Everyone was extremely proud. I believe the reason for our success was the lack of egos on our team. From coaches to players, everyone forgot about their ego and had one goal, to win," Cantens said. "We had NBA coaches taking a lesser role, guys who are stars in their league that didn't get off the bench with this team. But no one was worried about that, everyone was worried about the team and not their personal interests."

The Dominican's spectacular results boosted them to 20th in the FIBA rankings, and the young squad isn't slowing down anytime soon. Team standouts Orlando Sanchez (St. John's) and Victor Liz have signed with the Knicks and Mavericks, respectively.

Cantens, meanwhile, will be headed back to the United States as well. The former FGCU DOBO will reunite with former colleague Andy Enfield at USC and serve as the Director of Video and Scouting for the Trojans.

"At FGCU my duties were more administrative, at USC I have more of a role with film, doing game planning and game preparation. It will be tough leaving, but I'm excited about the opportunity to learn and grow as a coach."

Headed to Southern California, Cantens still acknowledges that the possibilities are endless as he continues his budding coaching career. Who knows what opportunities another phone call may present?

"I love teaching basketball and the idea of making a group work together for a common goal. I'm not sure exactly where my path will take me but I'm open for anything," Cantens said. "The past six months have opened my eyes to how much basketball is out there in the world."

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