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The Triqui Mexico mini-basketball team in the NBA

The Triqui Mexico mini-basketball team in the NBA

Posted by Alejandra Romo on March 07, 2014

It was difficult to tell Thursday night which team was most impressed: The Triqui Mexico mini-basketball team from Oaxaca, Mexico, that performed at halftime of the Spurs-Heat game at the AT&T Center or the Spurs, who played host to them during a visit instigated by coach Gregg Popovich.

The team of 8-to-11-year-olds from the Triqui Indian tribe encountered the Spurs during the team's December trip to Mexico City. The Spurs were supposed to play the Timberwolves but their only “competition” was against the youngsters when smoke in Mexico City Arena forced the game against Minnesota to be postponed.

The Triqui players had been invited by NBA Cares to an event at the arena the day before the NBA game and they wowed the Spurs by playing a skilled game while barefoot.

“We get a big kick out of them,” Popovich explained. “We saw them in Mexico City, playing in bare feet. We challenged them to a quick game. The guys loved it. They took their shoes off and jumped on the court and played them.”

Popovich was so impressed he immediately set in motion a plan to bring the youngsters to San Antonio to see a Spurs game.

“When Pop met them and our guys played them he got the idea,” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said. “(Spurs Director of Player Services) Analisa (Rodriguez) and the NBA worked hard to find out when there would be a good opportunity for them to come to San Antonio.”

The talented youngsters were discovered several years ago by a coach from Mexico City, Sergio Zuñiga, who was just as impressed as Popovich by their ability to play so well while barefoot.

“They are barefoot all the time because they don't have shoes,” explained Adrian Alvarez, senior coordinator of basketball development for NBA Mexico. “They had some huaraches (sandals), but only to walk in the jungle. They started playing barefoot and just got used to it.”

The youngsters, who are required to maintain a B-plus average in their studies to be eligible to play, gained national notoriety when they won the Mini-Basketball World Cup tournament in Argentina. That brought an invitation to visit Mexican President Enrique Peña-Nieto and the subsequent invitation to the NBA Cares event in December.

The team's San Antonio visit included dinner with the Spurs on Wednesday night, a chance to play on the Spurs' practice court on Thursday morning, lunch with the team after the Spurs' morning shootaround and Thursday night's halftime scrimmage.

Popovich made it clear he and his players thoroughly enjoyed hosting the youngsters.

“Besides being skilled kids, they're really excited, great senses of humor, big-time energy,” Popovich said. “So since we've had them in here, going out to eat here and there you can see how grateful they are, how much fun they're having as young kids.

“It's just been a give and take and a lot of fun for everybody.”

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