“101 Greats of European Basketball,” a limited-edition collection published in 2018 by Euroleague Basketball, honors more than six decades’ worth of stars who helped lift the sport on the Old Continent to its present-day heights. Author Vladimir Stankovic, who began covering many of those greats in 1969, uses their individual stories and profiles to show that European basketball’s roots run long and deep at the same time that the sport here is nurtured by players from around the world, creating a true team dynamic unlike anywhere else. His survey covers players who were retired before the book was published and who inspired the many others who came after them. Enjoy!
Chicho Sibilio – The Dominican shooter
At the end of a recent Spanish League regular season, some breaking news emerged: Alberto Corbacho of Blusens Monbus had established a new record with an average of 3.21 three-pointers made per game. Corbacho put an end to the reign of Chicho Sibilio and his record from 1986-87 of 3.14 threes per contest – a record that lasted 26 years. I am sure that some of the younger fans are wondering who Chicho Sibilio is. This is the story of a great player who arrived from a small country in the Caribbean that did not have a powerful national team but featured some interesting players and a great star: Cándido Antonio Sibilio Hughes, who was born on October 3, 1958 in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic, and is simply known as “Chicho” by the basketball world.
In a great story about him in “Informe Robinson”, a show on Spanish TV hosted by Mike Robinson, the player himself said that the great Serbian coach Ranko Zeravica “fell in love” with him in the mid-1970s. I talked to Zeravica and he told me an interesting story about Chicho:
“Through several sources, we got word that in the Dominican Republic there was a very interesting player. A shooting guard with NBA potential, whose name I don’t remember now. So, with Eduardo Portela, then with FC Barcelona, we set up a tour of the Dominican national team with the idea of watching that other player and signing him if he convinced us. It so happened that I saw a slim small forward who had the touch of the very best shooters. I told Portela right away that I wanted this forward and that we had to sign him no matter what. That’s how we signed Chicho Sibilio at 17 years old.”
That was the start of a brilliant career that ended in 1993, after 13 years in Barcelona and four more in Taugres Baskonia of Vitoria. Sibilio played 348 Spanish League games in which he averaged 28 minutes, 17.3 points on 42% three-point shooting, 58% accuracy on two-pointers and 79% on free throws. But behind the numbers we find a versatile player whose 2.00-meter height allowed him to play every position except point guard and center. “He was a smart player and he learned fast, he was willing to work,” explained Zeravica. “However, his main weapon was always his shooting. Too bad that triples arrived only in 1984. He spent almost half of his career without three-pointers.”.
With the arrival of Sibilio, Barcelona formed a lethal duo of forwards completed by legend Juan Antonio “Epi” San Epifanio. With a great floor general in Nacho Solozabal, Barcelona had the core of a great team for many years. With that team, Sibilio won five Spanish Leagues (1981, 1983, 1987, 1988 and 1989), eight Spanish King’s Cups (1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1987 and 1988), two Saporta Cups (1985, 1986), one Korac Cup (1987) and one Intercontinental Cup (1985). In 1992, Sibilio scored his 650th triple and on April 4, 1993, he became the first Spanish League player with 6,000 career points.
No EuroLeague crown
Realizing the rough diamond that it held in its hands, FC Barcelona managed to get a quick nationalization for Sibilio, which also benefitted the Spanish national team. Sibilio made his debut at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. He played 87 games with the red jersey, scoring 1,324 points and winning a silver medal at EuroBasket 1983 in Nantes. His last big tourney with Spain was the 1987 EuroBasket in Athens. Over the course of those years, Sibilio averaged 16.7 points per game in FIBA competitions, from the 21.6 at those Moscow Olympics in 1980 to 10.0 at the 1987 EuroBasket.
I think I saw Sibilio live for the first time in Moscow in 1980. After that, our paths crossed at several EuroBaskets and other competitions. I still remember how the ease with which he shot caught everyone’s attention. He needed minimal space to create his shots, which were true bombs that formed a high arc and almost always went in! His moves and sixth sense to choose the best spot for a shot would be a valuable lesson nowadays in any school for shooters.
Sibilio was also a fast player who was able to run the break and was a good rebounder. As sometimes happens with shooters, he was often called out for not caring much about defending his man, but I always say it is easier to find or create a defensive specialist than a great shooter.
Ultimately, throughout his great career, there was something missing, as has happened with other greats of European basketball: a EuroLeague title. Sibilio was close two times, but on both occasions the trophy slipped away. Barcelona played the 1984 final against Banco di Roma and lost 79-73 despite Epi’s 31 points. Chicho was not at his best with only 4 points and poor 2-for-10 shooting that night. His second chance came in 1989 in Munich, but in semifinals, Jugoplastika Split, the eventual champ, won 87-77 with the great trio formed by Toni Kukoc (24 points), Dusko Ivanovic (21) and Dino Radja (18) outdueling Epi (16), Audie Norris (15) and Chicho (15). In the aftermath of that defeat in Munich, Sibilio left the team. He then signed for Baskonia where, with less pressure, he played four good seasons before retiring at age 35.
There were also other European competitions, of course. In 1981, Barca lost the Saporta Cup final against Squib Cantu with just a symbolic contribution by Sibilio of 3 points. In 1985, in the same competition, Barcelona defeated Zalgiris Kaunas with Arvydas Sabonis (14 points, 16 rebounds), Rimas Kurtinaitis (36 points) and Valdemaras Chomicius in the final. Sibilio scored 29 points on great shooting: 8 of 16 twos, 3 of 3 threes and 4 of 4 free throws. That same year, Barcelona won the Intercontinental Cup against Monte Libano of Brazil (93-89) with 39 points by Epi and 27 by Sibilio. Marcel de Souza had 38 for the opponents. It was a celebration of three great shooters.
One year later, Barcelona repeated the Saporta Cup title, this time beating Scavolini Pesaro 101-86 as Chicho scored 25 points and Epi 20. Sibilio’s trophy case was completed with the 1987 Korac Cup after a double win over Limoges as Sibilio totaled 33 points in the two-game series.
Sibilio’s teammates in Barcelona and with the Spanish national team described him as a “natural talent” (Juanma Lopez Iturriaga); “the first pure forward” (Fernando Romay); “excellent, even without practicing a lot” (Solozabal). He had something that great shooters have: it looked like everything he did was easy, natural, effortless. Of course, it was not like that, and it was his talent that made so many shots go in as if it were second nature. He was the top scorer in the Spanish League twice (1986-87 and 1987-88) and he was chosen MVP of the all-star game in 1990 in Zaragoza.
Even though Sibilio was internationally recognized as a Spanish player, prior to signing with Barcelona in 1975, he already caught everyone’s attention at the Centrobasket Championship. The Dominican Republic, the host of the event, finished fourth behind Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba. Sibilio never lost his connection with his home country, where he currently lives. He coached several local teams and was also a member of the technical staff of the federation. However, his biggest job was in his academy, given his desire to produce a player with the same talent as him. It is a difficult challenge because Chicho was very good. For me – if we exclude big powers with long traditions like Argentina, Brazil and Puerto Rico – he’s the best Latino player ever, together with Manuel Raga.