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Five Cuban Athletes with Potential to Shine in Professional Clubs

Five Cuban Athletes with Potential to Shine in Professional Clubs

Posted by Miguel Ernesto on September 29, 2015

Cuban sports authorities have progressively cleared the way for professional clubs to hire their athletes. This process has been way slower than expected and it had been only focused on some baseball players. The reality for the last months of 2015 and next year promises to be different.

When Cuba announced, back in 2013, that it was taking a pragmatic position by accepting the signing of its athletes in professional teams, many people thought that a storm of contracts would fall, thus putting an end to the leak of athletes to other countries. That certainly didn’t happen.

The clubs hesitated to take the step, perhaps worried about the different legal impediments to be faced. On the other hand, it seems that the authorities of Cuban Federations —who work as representatives— didn’t efficiently promote their athletes and these, thinking of the Embargo as an obstacle in their way to Major Leagues, decided to take their own way. For instance, over the past twelve months, 70 baseball players left Cuba in search of contracts with Major League organizations. Some of them signed seven-digit contracts; others are still waiting.

After the fourth position occupied on the medals table in Toronto Pan-Am Games —the worst performance in half a century for a Cuban delegation attending this event— the authorities seem to be more determined to speed up hiring processes. According to the policy in force since 2013, the athletes are given 90 percent of the contract worth and the Federation keeps the rest in order to refurbish facilities and buy sports equipment; besides, the experience gained by the athlete in professional competitions would be useful when it comes to championing the colors of the national team. It’s a win-win situation.

What Cuban athletes could make the difference in their new professional teams in 2016? PanamericanWorld proposes a closer look at five athletes with great potential.

Melisa Vargas (Volleyball, 15 years old, height: 1.84 meters; weight: 78 kg)

This young athlete is described as one of the most talented volleyball players on the face of Earth. She’s not 16 years old yet and she already has vast experience in different events with the Cuban team, where she made her debut at the age of 13.

Vargas is going to play for Czech Prostejovsky Club, which participates in the local league and two club events in Europe, such as the Champions League. Vargas is under age, so she’ll be accompanied by her mother and the coach of the national team, Roberto Garcia, will visit her twice during her stay at the European country, in order to assess her evolution.

Jasiel Rivero (Basketball, 21 years old, height: 2.04 meters; weight: 101 kg)

Rivero plays pivot position and he has been presently labeled as the best basketball player of Cuba. The most recent performance of the national team, at the Olympic qualifying competition held in Mexico, was a disaster; however, Rivero’s results were acceptable and that fact probably made the executives of Atletico Tabare Club, from Montevideo, decide to sign him up for the upcoming season of Uruguayan basketball, for 12,500 dollars.

Rivero said to be “super happy” with the contract. “I’m thrilled and my family is very proud of me. I have great expectations with Tabare in Uruguay, where the environment is very good and the treatment is excellent. I dream about playing in the NBA, specifically for the Miami Heat, where my idol, Lebron James, stood out”, Rivero admitted, although because of the US Embargo against Cuba, no NBA team can hire Cuban athletes with residence on the Island.

Javier Jimenez (Volleyball, 25 years old, height: 1.98 meters; weight: 89 kg)

Over the past five years, some 80 Cuban volleyball players have decided to try their luck in different professional competitions around the world (from South Korea to Brazil), but none of them was endorsed by the Cuban Federation. The first one to sign a contract, with this Federation as mediator, was Javier Jimenez, who signed with Greek PAOK team (Thessaloniki) in 2015.

His actions helped PAOK conquer the title of the domestic tournament, first time in 32 years. Moreover, the team was victorious in the Greece Cup. The executives were pleased with Jimenez’s performance and added another year to the contract. This time round, Jimenez will be accompanied by Cuban Rolando Cepeda, who is going to make his debut in this competition.

Oyanaisis Gelis (Basketball, 31 years old, height: 1.75 meters)

This veteran base organizer wants to show with Maranhao Club – first basketball division in Brazil – that she still shines on the court. Gelis is not going to play for Maranhao with a contract, but an exchange between federations, a strategy conceived by Cuban basketball authorities so as to increase the player’s remuneration. Gelis’ contribution will be a key element during the upcoming Olympic trials, where the national team —after the defeat against Canada in Edmonton— will fight for a position in 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Yuliesky Gourriel (Baseball, 31 years old, height: 1.83 meters; weight: 89 kg)

Gourriel is acclaimed as the most complete Cuban baseball player on the Island. In 2014 he played for Yokohama DeNa Baystars, Japanese League, and everything seemed to be ready for his return this year, with a 3-million-dollar contract, but Gourriel didn’t show up and the reasons are not clear yet. This situation brought about a scandal that might be a setback for future negotiations between the Cuban Federation and Japanese teams. Yokohama rescinded Yuliesky’s contract and canceled the relation with his brother Lourdes Junior.

There were some signs of a possible negotiation for Gourriel to sign with a MLB organization, without definitely leaving Cuba, but no statement was issued, so Gourriel is available.

Major League Baseball recently announced the permission for leagues of Mexico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic —but Puerto Rico— to Cuban baseball players. With this new scenario, Gourriel might become one of the main targets of several important teams of the region.

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