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PHOTO BY JARED GRAY, USA WATER POLO; TEXT BY DAN ALBANO, OCVARSITY.COM
Four-time Olympian Tony Azevedo spurned an offer to play for Brazil to be a key leader for the U.S. men's water polo team.

Azevedo spurns offer to play for Brazil's water polo team

STAFF WRITER

NEWPORT BEACH – The subject of the hottest rumor in U.S. water polo donned his familiar No. 8 cap Saturday at Corona del Mar High, gathered teammates for some final words of encouragement and helped lead the Americans to a much-needed victory.

Tony Azevedo remains Team USA’s leading man and isn’t planning on joining Brazil, as speculated.

“Of course I’ve heard that rumor,” Azevedo said just before the start of the FINA Intercontinental Tournament, which ended Saturday afternoon with the United States defeating China, 19-7, for the bronze medal. “But that’s really all it was.”

A popular theory since the Americans’ disappointing eighth–place finish at the 2012 Games had Azevedo playing in 2016 for Brazil, an automatic Olympic qualifier as the host nation.

The four-time Olympian from Long Beach Wilson has dual-citizenship with Brazil, plays professionally in the nation and lives in Sao Paulo with his wife and young son. Azevedo also has ties to Brazil coach Ratko Rudic, his former U.S. coach.

Azevedo said he was courted by Brazil.

“There was a lot of money on the table,” he said before the Intercontinental. “In the end, for me, the most important thing was that I started here and created something here, I feel, in the United States and that’s the only thing on my mind … to end here.”

Azevedo, 33, is now the veteran leader for one of the youngest teams in the world. The 2008 Olympic silver medalist had three goals and an assist Saturday. Once mostly known for his shooting exploits, Azevedo finished the Intercontinental with as many assists (13) as goals (13).

“I see him in a different role than he has been in the past,” U.S. coach Dejan Udovicic said Saturday of Azevedo, who plans to move back to the United States in January for full-time training. “He’s on board. We’re on the same page.”

Rudic’s Brazil placed second to Australia on Saturday but wondered what might have been with Azevedo. “I would like to have Tony,” Rudic said, “but I respect his decision.”

Contact the writer: dalbano@ocregister.com


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