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Antigua’s Dominican Republic squad qualifies for World Championships

John Calipari set the foundation for Dominican Republic success. Now Orlando Antigua is running with it.

The Dominican Republic National Team, which Antigua took over after Calipari stepped down from his two-year reign, qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Championships in Spain with an 86-78 victory over Uruguay on Sunday at the 2013 FIBA America Championship in Caracas, Venezuela. Led by Jack Michael Martinez’s 17 points, the Dominicans are headed to the World Championships for the first time since 1978.

“I’m so proud of everyone on that team,” Calipari said. “Every single one of those guys, from Jack Michael to Francisco Garcia, Eloy Vargas, Eulis Baez, Edgar Sosa and everyone else, worked their tails off to get where they’re at. What they’ve done is incredible. Understand that what they accomplished has only happened one other time, and because of the way qualifying worked then, this mountain was much steeper for them to climb. I couldn’t be more proud of Orlando, Rod (Strickland), Eduardo Najri, Jose Miguel, and all the players. What a team effort.”

The Dominicans got off to a slow start in Venezuela, but they rallied to achieve history by going 4-0 in the second stage of the tournament. Next year’s appearance in the FIBA World Championships will mark on the second time the Caribbean nation has made the tournament.

Former Kentucky big man Eloy Vargas played a key part in Sunday’s victory. Playing center for the Dominicans, Vargas scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds.

“Keep it up, Eloy,” Calipari said. “The Big Blue Nation is pulling for you. Proud of you!”

The Dominican Republic’s recent success started with Calipari when he took the team over in 2011. Under Coach Cal, the team narrowly missed qualifying for the country’s first-ever Olympics berth on two different tournaments. Calipari turned over the reins to Antigua in June.

Sunday’s history victory does not mean the 2013 FIBA Americans Championship is over for the Dominican Republic. The semifinals begin Tuesday.