SAN JUAN (FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women) - There is nothing like having a shot at an Olympic berth to sharpen the focus of a basketball player in training, according to Puerto Rico center Esmary Vargas.
Her national team is a little more than three months away from competing at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women (OQT).
Las Boricuas made a stunning run to glory at the Pan American Games last summer, upsetting Brazil in the Semi-Finals and then downing hosts Mexico to win gold.
The national side was then invited to take part in the 12-team OQT in Ankara, Turkey, where five spots for the London Games will be available.
Puerto Rico’s women have never played at an Olympics so this group of players has a chance to make history.
"I have always been very serious with my work, but since we won the gold medal, I am even more serious and focused," said 1.94m tall Vargas.
"We want to go to the Olympics."
The Puerto Ricans are in OQT Group A with Japan and hosts Turkey.
If they finish among the top two sides, next would be a Quarter-Final against a team from Group B: Argentina, the Czech Republic or New Zealand.
The winners of the four Quarter-Finals advance to London, while the losers will still have a chance to claim the fifth and final spot.
Coach Omar González has been putting Vargas and some of the other players through their paces this week.
Puerto Rico will first take part in the Centrobasket in Morovis, from 12-16 June.
The OQT will be staged from 25 June to 1 July.
Vargas is glad to be back on the court after taking some time off following a very busy 2011.
She and her teammates also competed in the FIBA Americas Championship and came in fifth.
"The two months of rest has helped me a lot," the 30-year-old Vargas said.
"I am very good physically, only some minor knee and back ailments."
Mari Plácido, Pamela Rosado, Carla Escalera y Angiely Morales are also having workouts with González, while the rest of the players have professional commitments outside of the country.
"We are practicing on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays," Plácido said, "combining it with physical work.”