You can erase Iziane Castro Marques from the Brazilian Olympic picture -- and pretty much erase any medal chances for the South Americans as well. (photo by Kelly Kline)
You can erase Iziane Castro Marques from the Brazilian Olympic picture -- and pretty much erase any medal chances for the South Americans as well. (photo by Kelly Kline)

London 2012: Brazil -- With Castro Marques gone, so are Brazil's medal hopes

July 22, 2012 - 6:16am


FIBA World Ranking No. 6
How qualified 2011 FIBA Americas Women's Champion
Key veteran Center Erika de Souza Machado (Atlanta Dream)
Rising star Center Damiris Dantas (2012 draftee Minnesota Lynx)
Olympic medals Gold - none; Silver - one (Atlanta 1996); Bronze - one (Sydney 2000)
World championship medals Gold - one (1994); Silver - none; Bronze - one (1971)
Preliminary round group Group B

Up until July 20, Brazil, though a team with some serious weaknesses,  was among the favorites to make it at least as far as the quarterfinals, if not contend foifs medal. Despite a rout by the U.S. in ehibition play last week in Washington, in a game in which Castro Marques spent a lot of minutes riding the pines due to foul trouble, if all the stars aligned just perfectly, the South Americans might even have had the weapons to give  the United States a serious challenge.

But then mercurial wing Iziane Castro Marques, a WNBA veteran and one of the few players in the world capable of scoring 20 points no matter who is guarding her, was thrown off the team by Hortencia Marcari, one of the greatest female players ever, and now the administrator of Brazilian women's basketball. According to reports, Castro Marques let her boyfriend sleep in her room several times, and for that Hortencia dismissed her from the team -- and essentially dismissed Brazil's medal chances.

Of course, many believe that's not the whole story, as Castro Marques has had run-ins with Brazilian authority in the past. She left the national team in 2008 after fighting with her coach and refusing to re-enter a game, and after being reinstated to the 2010 Brazilian World Championship team when the coach in question (Paulo Bassul) was replaced, missed the 2011 FIBA Americas Championships to remain with the Atlanta Dream, which was competing in the WNBA playoffs. (Brazil needed -- and even without Castro Marques, got -- a win in that tournament to qualify for the Olympics without having to play in during last month's qualifier.) Now, she won't play in the London Olympics, and for a crime that does not seem equal to the punishment, which is why there is a feeling that more may have been going on.

But on the floor, the result is that now Brazil must rely almost entirely on Erika de Souza, a 6-6 post for the Atlanta Dream to carry the offensive and defensive load. Nineteen-year-old newcomer Damiris Dantas, who was discovered by Houston Comets and Brazilian National Team legend Janeth Arcain, has a bright future (she was chosen in the first round of the WNBA draft even though it was clear she wouldn't be coming to the league in 2012) but she is still very raw. Her improvement is notable  -- her offensive production nearly doubled in the year between her first senior national team appearance at the 2010 Women's World Champions (5.7 ppg) and last year's gold-medal run for Brazil at the FIBA Americas Championship (10.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists in just over 22 minutes per game) -- but she doesn't appear ready to lead Brazil to the podium quite yet.

Another Brazilian veteran, Adrianinha Pinto, who shoots a sizzling 50 percent from the three-point arc and averages more than five assists and nearly 10 points per game, will hold down the point, while Karla Costa, who had a great game against the U.S. in a friendly, also supplies firepower.

In terms of fundamentals, Brazil's greatest vulnerability is its lack of a consistent three-point threat other than Pinto. The team's best three-point shooter, Helen Luz, retired from the team after the 2010 Worlds, and even with both Pinto and Luz then on hand, Brazil shot just 29.5 percent (39 of 132) from the arc at the 2010 World Championships and roughly the same (29.7 percent, or 27 of- 1) at last year's FIBA America's Tournament. Neither is Brazil a particularly strong free-throw shooting team, averaging just 61.9 percent from the line at the 2010 World Championships

But perhaps even more important is the team's mental toughness. Brazil plays a passionate, emotionally intense style of basketball and when things are going well, one can practically feel the joy radiating from the players on the floor. But hand them a defeat, the absence of a key player or serious foul trouble, and in the past, Brazilian players have crumbled, quite literally dissolving into tears on the bench and struggling to bounce back in subsequent games. And Castro Marques was the embodiment of that emotional talent, and she more than any other player was capable of exploding into greatness in a crucial game.

Brazil's new coach, former U19 coach Luiz Claudio Taralio, naturally built much of his system around Castro Marques, and his task is made even more difficult by the fact that he has only been running the team since last fall. And even with Castro Marques, the Brazilians were just 3-4 in preparatory games, with multiple easy wins coming against Chile and Cuba, neither of whom are Olympic contenders. A trio of ever worsening (75-64, 80-73, 102-58) losses against Australia, however, was not a good sign, and the followup at the hands of the U.S. plus the abrupt dismissal of Castro Marques do not paint a picture of a team playing at its best.

It's been only three days since Castro Marques was sacked, and though Hortencia Marcari has been quoted as saying the decision is final, some kind of rapproachment is not out of the question. But without their fiery star, the Brazilians lost to France, 57-67, in an exhibition tournament on Friday, though they did rally sufficiently to give Australia a workout before falling, 75-78, to the Opals on Saturday, with de Souza supplying most of the firepower for Brazil (24 points, seven boards). Of course, Lauren Jackson spent most of her time cheerleading from the sidelines while her teammates -- particularly Liz Cambage (24 points, 12 rebounds) and Belinda Snell (game-high 28 points, four boards, four assists, four steals) carried the laboring oar for Australia. So whether that game says more about the strength of Brazil sans Castro Marques, the strength of Australia seven without seeing much of Jackson, or the gutsiness of Opals coach Carrie Graf remains to be seen.

The Brazilians still have talent, and they still should advance out of Group B, but without Castro Marques, and in with the team in what appears to be a state of disarray, their medal hopes seem to have all but disappeared.