- Enrique Rojas, ESPNdeportes
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Milwaukee Bucks forward Charlie Villanueva is one step closer to playing with the Dominican Republic national basketball team after being released by USA Basketball, the most important requirement to switch his sports citizenship.
"The process has not been fully completed, but we don't expect any obstacles," said Villanueva to ESPNdeportes.com. "The most important thing is to follow up after submitting the documents so the process is not interrupted."
Upon complying with the requisites set forth by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) in order for basketball players to switch sports citizenship, Villanueva would dress for the first time in a Dominican Republic uniform in the Americas World Championship Qualifying Tournament in Mexico, Aug. 19-30.
"That's my goal, to play for the Dominican Republic," stated Villanueva. "It has always been my dream".
The 6-11 forward, who averages 16.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game this season, would join Al Horford (Atlanta Hawks) and Francisco Garcia (Sacramento Kings) on the team. Still pending is the confirmation of Lakers forward Trevor Ariza, who's trying to change his sports citizenship as well.
Ariza, born in Miami, has expressed interest in playing for the Dominican Republic since 2005. Ariza's Dominican link is via his grandfather Osvaldo Ariza, a native of Puerto Plata, a city located in the northern part of the country.
But Villanueva, once released by USA Basketball to play for the Dominican Republic, would still have to file additional documentation to prove his Dominican sports citizenship, according to a letter sent by FIBA to the Dominican Basketball Federation (FEDOMBAL).
"As you know, Mr. Villanueva played for USA Basketball in the 2004 FIBA Americas U20 Championship," explained Jim Tooley, executive director of USA Basketball, in a letter sent to FEDOMBAL. "However, USA Basketball would have no objection to Mr. Villanueva playing for the Dominican Republic in future FIBA events because USA Basketball does not have plans for him to be a member of future USA national teams."
Villanueva explained that his intention of playing for the Dominican Republic was not motivated by lack of consideration from USA Basketball in regards to upcoming international commitments.
"It was my own initiative," said Villanueva. "After I played for the USA team everything was delayed, but I have always wanted to play for the Dominican Republic; it'll be a dream come true."
Villanueva's sports citizenship switch follows New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez's path.
Before being sidelined by a hip injury, A-Rod was part of the Dominican's preliminary roster for the recently concluded World Baseball Classic. Three years ago, A-Rod played for Team USA in the first edition of the WBC.
Born in Washington Heights, NY, Rodriguez was able to switch teams because his parents are native Dominicans.
Villanueva was born in Queens, NY, of Dominican parents.
Villanueva is a few days away from finishing his third NBA season with the Bucks, who are out of playoff contention.
"It was an up and down battle for us," said Villanueva. "There was progress as a team, but our overall performance was disappointing. Individually, I'm not satisfied with my performance. I had a decent year, but I'm not satisfied."
ESPNdeportes.com's Mario Fraticelli contributed to this report.
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