LEXINGTON, Ky. – University of Kentucky sophomore point guard Jennifer O’Neill (Bronx, N.Y.) has been selected to compete on the Puerto Rican women’s national team in its pursuit of a berth in the 2012 London Olympics.
“It’s an honor to be asked to play for this team,” O’Neill said. “Playing for Puerto Rico will allow me to represent my family in a very special way. It’s been a great experience so far because I’m learning a lot in practice, getting a lot of reps and learning how to read defenses better. After not playing last season because of my injury, this allows me to get game experience and it can only help me for next season at Kentucky. I’m really thankful for this opportunity.”
O’Neill’s mother, Maritza Robles, is full Puerto Rican and her maternal grandmother is a native of Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, which qualifies O’Neill to be eligible for its national team. O’Neill, along with 11 other women, is currently in Morovis, Puerto Rico, competing at the Centrobasket, a FIBA-sponsored basketball tournament where teams from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean compete.
The selected Puerto Rican national team will travel to Ankara, Turkey, June 25-July 1 for the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament and compete for one of the final five spots in the 2012 London Olympics.
Puerto Rico was invited to the tournament in Turkey after winning gold at the Pan American Games over Mexico in 2011. Puerto Rico will compete against teams from Argentina, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Japan, South Korea, Mali, Mozambique, New Zealand and Turkey for one of the final five spots in London.
The Puerto Rican national team will face the host nation and Japan, and if they win one of their first two games, will take on Argentina, Czech Republic or New Zealand in the quarterfinals. A victory in that game would guarantee the team a spot in the London Olympics. Should the Puerto Ricans fall in that game, they would still have a chance to claim the fifth and final place for London.
“We are very excited that Jen has the opportunity to play with the Puerto Rican National Team,” UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “It is an honor for any player to get to play at this level with a chance to compete in the Olympics. Our program receives an added bonus because Jen gets to compete in games coming off a season where she wasn’t able to compete due to injury. She is getting much-needed playing experience and all of us at UK will be cheering for Jen as she tries to help the Puerto Rican national team earn a spot in the 2012 London Olympics.”
O’Neill, a 5-foot-6 point guard, sat out her sophomore season with the Wildcats due to a stress fracture sustained in her right foot during the preseason. Prior to her injury, the former high school McDonald’s All-American played in 29 games with three starts as a freshman. She averaged 5.1 points per game overall and 7.3 points per game in conference play. She posted double-figure points in five games, including a career-high 15 points at Florida. O’Neill ranked third on the team in 3-pointers made with 21, while shooting .362 percent (21-of-58) from beyond the arc.
O’Neill is looking to become the first Wildcat in program history to compete in the Olympics.