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D-Day is here

The day of reckoning has come. It’s D-Day or Draw Day, for the FIBA-Asia Championships and the proceedings will begin at 1:30 this afternoon at the Centennial Ballroom of the Manila Hotel with FIBA-Asia secretary-general Hagop Khajirian of Lebanon supervising the lottery.

The draw will situate the 16 countries participating in the 27th edition of the biennial competition to be held here on Aug. 1-11. The tournament will mark the third staging of the event in Manila since its inception in 1960. Manila hosted the 1960 and 1973 jousts with the Philippines winning both. Whether Manila will keep its unblemished record intact as FIBA-Asia host remains to be seen. It will be 40 years since Manila last hosted the event and 28 years since the Philippines last captured the FIBA-Asia title in Malaysia in 1985 with coach Ron Jacobs.

Local organizing committee deputy chief executive officer Moying Martelino confirmed the other day that a “pure” draw will be held, meaning a random lottery of 15 teams excluding the Philippines which as host, has the prerogative to choose which group to join. In the past, a “modified” draw was conducted to locate the top four seeds in one group each so as to avoid an early clash of favorites. With a “modified” draw, the top four seeds based on last year’s FIBA-Asia Cup standings will be spread out to Groups A, B, C and D. The top four seeds would be Iran, Japan, Qatar and China in that order. But with a “pure” draw, it’s theoretically possible for the top four seeds to be in the same bracket.

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Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes was taken aback by the switch to a “pure” draw as he had studied various combinations and permutations under the assumption of a “modified” system before leaving for training camp in Lithuania last Sunday. But a “pure” draw may not necessarily be disadvantageous to the Philippines. It could mean the top favorites eliminating each other early and clearing the way for the Philippines to clean up. Whether the draw is “pure” or “modified,” the Philippines will pick 13th in the lottery or after 12 teams will have been situated in the four groups. That will make it easier for the Philippines to choose which group to join after assessing the balance of power in each bracket. The “pure” system leaves everything to the so-called “luck of the draw.”

There will be two boxes on stage for the draw. One box will contain 15 Molten “mascot” miniature rubber basketballs representing 15 countries while the other will contain four similar basketballs representing Groups A, B, C and D. Khajirian will draw first from one box to announce a country then draw from the other box to announce the match for a group. Every drawn ball will be removed from its box. After the four balls are drawn from the group box, they will be returned to the box to continue the draw for the next round. As soon as the Philippines exercises its right to pick the group to join, the ball representing that group will be removed from the group box to complete the last three draws.

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The preliminary round of the tournament will feature each team playing groupmates once. The top three teams in each group move up to the next round while the last placers are struck out. The 12 survivors will then be reclassified into two groups of six. The six teams from Groups A and B will make up a new group while the six teams from Groups C and D will comprise another new group. Each team plays one game against other teams not in its original group carrying over records from the preliminaries except with the eliminated teams. The top four countries in each group advance to play in the knockout crossover quarterfinals. The top four move on to the knockout semifinals with the winners disputing the championship and the losers vying for the third and last ticket to the FIBA World Cup in Spain next year.

The key is to survive the knockout quarterfinals and for the Philippines, it’s critical to match up against a team that is conveniently beatable. Once a team is in the semifinals, it gains two chances to win once for a ticket to Spain. That’s because even if a team loses in the semifinals, it gets a crack at the bronze by playing off against the other semifinal loser. The homecourt advantage will surely play a role in buoying up the spirits of Gilas if and when the national team enters the semifinals.

In the draw, 14 of the 16 teams are confirmed to participate. Only the two countries from Southeast Asia are up in the air with the qualifying tournament to be played among Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore in Medan on June 20-23. Representing South Asia is India which clinched the only slot from its sub-zone by whipping Afghanistan, 64-46, in New Delhi last Tuesday. India earlier crushed Nepal, 109-26. Central Asia is bannered by Kazakhstan which trounced Uzbekistan, 80-60, in a one-game eliminator in Astana last May 7.

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South Korea, China, Japan, Hong Kong and Chinese-Taipei will represent East Asia which had its qualifications in Incheon last May 16-21. South Korea beat China, 79-68, in the finals but the Chinese didn’t send top players Wang Zhizhi, Yi Jianlian, Sun Yue, Liu Wei and Wang Shipeng. Japan defeated Hong Kong, 87-71 and Chinese-Taipei booked the last ticket to Manila by ousting Mongolia, 94-86.

The Gulf is represented by Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The sub-zone qualifiers were held in Bahrain last Sept. 30-Oct. 6 as Qatar topped the five-team competition with a perfect 4-0 record, beating Saudi Arabia, 66-60, United Arab Emirates, 81-62, Oman, 97-40 and Bahrain, 74-64. West Asia is represented by Iran, Lebanon and Jordan which competed in the four-team qualifiers in Tehran last February. Iran was unscathed, repulsing Iraq, 94-61, Jordan, 93-55 and Lebanon, 100-86, in overtime.

At the 2011 FIBA-Asia Championships in Wuhan, the Philippines finished fourth after losing a 70-68 cliffhanger to South Korea in the battle for third. China edged Jordan, 70-69, for the title and the right to represent Asia at the 2012 London Olympics. Iran wound up fifth but came back strong to capture the FIBA-Asia Cup crown in Tokyo where Japan came in second, Qatar third, the Philippines fourth and China fifth last September.

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