One week before the Opening Ceremonies of the London 2012 Olympic Games, Brazil's hopes for a return to the medal stand in women's basketball in London suffered a major setback Friday, as star wing Iziane Castro Marques was cut from the senior women's Olympic team for disciplinary reasons.
The Confederacão Brasileira de Basketball (CBB), the governing body for men's and women's Brazilian national team basketball, issued a terse announcement Friday, confirming Castro Marques' dismissal from the team. Translated, the announcement reads:
"The player Iziane Castro Marques is not part of the adult women's Brazilian Team that will contend in the Olympic Games in London, England, beginning on the 28th of July. On account of an act of indiscipline off the court, she was put off of the delegation by director Hortência Marcari, who took the decision together with the coaching staff. As a result, Brazil will continue on to London with 11 female players, because it is no longer possible to register a new athlete, except in the event of a proven injury."
The CBB notice then goes on to detail the Brazilian women's Olympic schedule and the 11 remaining players on the roster. Castro-Marques' photo and profile have been removed from the CBB website.
The Brazilian team is currently in Lille, France, for a pre-Olympic warm-up tournament that began Friday, July 20 and runs through Sunday, July 22. First up for the Brazilians was France, whom Brazil will also meet when preliminary-round play commences in Olympic Group B. Playing without Castro-Marques, Brazil fell to their French hosts, 67-57. Brazil will face Australia, another Group B power, on Saturday; in a three-game series played between these two teams last month in Australia, Brazil dropped all three games, the last by a margin of 102-58. Sunday's final game of the Lilles tournament features Brazil versus China, which is part of the Group A Olympic draw; these two teams would not meet each other before the quarterfinals, assuming both advance that far.
Castro Marques has played on four WNBA teams, with some of her best performances coming in the playoffs. She began her WNBA career in 2002 with the now defunct Miami Sol. The following year she moved on to Phoenix, and a year later, after being waived by the Mercury, was signed by the Seattle Storm, where she would spend the next three years. Traded to the Atlanta in 2008, she helped the Dream to the WNBA Finals in each of the past two seasons. However, according to Dream coach and general manager Marynell Meadors, Castro Marques did not re-sign with Atlanta this year, remaining in Brazil to train with her national team, and is currently a free agent.
|Team USA's Tina Charles (Connecticut Sun) and Brazil's Iziane Castro Marques (formerly of the Atlanta Dream) share a heated exchange after making contact under the basket in Monday's exhibition game. The interaction resulted in double technicals and Castro Marques' fourth foul of the opening quarter, keeping Brazil's high-scorer on the bench for nearly half the game as her team went down to defeat. (Photo by Kelly Kline)|
The loss of Castro Marques represents a serious blow to Brazil's Olympic prospects. At 15 points per game, Castro Marques was the team's second-leading scorer, behind the now-retired Houston Comets veteran Janeth Arcain, at the Athens Olympics where Brazil finished fourth. And despite missing nearly half of this Monday's exhibition match against Team USA due to four fouls, including a technical, picked up in the first quarter, Castro Marques was Brazil's leading scorer, with 21 points, plus two boards, two steals and an assist (but five turnovers) in that match.
The CBB announcement offered no specifics as to the nature of the infraction for which Castro Marques was sacked. However, Yahoo! Brazil's Esportes reported Friday night (again in Portuguese) that the player had confirmed reports that "the reason for her cut from the Olympic Games in London was the fact of having taken her boyfriend to her hotel room."
"'I was cut off for having violated a 'focus' rule," Yahoo! Brazil quoted Castro Marques as saying. "'I took my boyfriend to sleep in my room in some nights. I know that this attitude was inadequate and that this penalty punishes not only to me, but all the work we have done in these months -- more, over these years.'"
Yahoo! Brazil further reported that Castro Marques wept during her statement and apologized for her behavior, and in particular to delegation director Hortência Marcari, a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and a former player of near-legendary stature in Brazil after leading the national team to the gold, first in the 1991 Pan-American Games and subsequently in the 1994 Women's World Basketball Championships in Australia. The latter victory made Brazil, at the time, the only nation other than the Soviet Union and the United States to have won the World Championships in women's basketball; that elite group was subsequently joined by Australia in 2006.
The Yahoo! Brazil story further stated that Castro Marques has asked to return to the team and compete in the Olympics.
However, a report published early Saturday morning by CRIEnglish.com, the English-language website of China Radio International, reported that Marcari refused to confirm nor deny the allegations that the decision to cut Castro Marques was based on her assignation with her boyfriend, but would say only that the decision to cut Marques was final.
"I'm not going to say what the reason was. The team has rules and they were broken," the CRIEnglish.com report quoted Marcari.
If that seems like a harsh penalty to impose on a 30-year old adult, one must consider that this is not Castro Marques' first run-in with the Brazilian National Team coaching staff and CBB administration. Indeed, it was Marcari who backed the fiery player's reinstatement to the squad after she was cut from the Beijing Olympic team in the wake of a dispute with then-head coach Paulo Bassul. In that dust-up, Bassul, dissatisfied with her play during the first half of Brazil's quarterfinal match with Belarus in the 2008 FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament, had benched Castro-Marques early in the game. Words were exchanged between the athlete and her coach, and Castro Marques remained on the bench throughout the second half. But with his bench spent from having spent much of three quarters exerting full-court pressure to get themselves back into contention, Bassul called on Castro-Marques to go back into the game. She refused, and when the game went to overtime and Bassul again attempted to send Castro-Marques back into the game, the team's hopes to secure an Olympic berth on the line, she still refused to take the floor. Belarus went on to win, although Brazil subsequently secured the lone remaining Olympic spot for the Beijing Olympics by winning a playoff among the four quarterfinal losers.
Exactly who "fired" whom remains a bone of contention. Bassul said at the time that Castro Marques had left him no choice but to dismiss her from the team. "She's out," Bassul stated. "She didn't say 'no' to me; she said 'no' to the group, to the country.... For me, it's final."
Castro Marques, a mainstay of the Brazilian national team since playing at the junior level in 2000, returned straightaway to Atlanta, insisting that she would never again play for her country while Bassul remained as head coach.
Brazil finished a disappointing 1-5 in preliminary-round play in Beijing, failing to make it out of its group into the quarterfinals.
The drama continued for the next two years, but as the 2010 Women's World Basketball Championships approached, Castro Marques was back in Brazilian green and yellow and Bassul was out, replaced by Carlos Colina. Marcari denied at the time that Castro Marques had been the reason for Bassul's departure, but she did travel to Poland in 2009 in an effort to talk Castro Marques into returning to the team and subsequently backed her reinstatement.
Brazil has since been through two more coaching changes, as Colina, who led Brazil to another disappointing finish -- out at the octafinals of the 2010 Women's World Championships -- was replaced by Enio Vecchi, and Vecchi, despite taking the team to a gold-medal finish and an Olympic qualification at the 2011 FIBA Americas Championships, was replaced by current head coach Luís Claudio Tarallo.
But Brazil, though a likely quarterfinalist, was already a team showing serious signs of weakness before the most recent flap with Castro Marques. And, if Marcari's decision about the star's dismissal from the squad is, indeed, final, it remains to be seen how the team will replace her firepower, particularly when facing the other post powerhouses in Pool B.
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