Kazahks tap Euro League vet Johnson for FIBA Asia joust
Joey Villar, Nelson Beltran (The Philippine Star) - June 23, 2013 - 5:00pm

MANILA, Philippines – Kazakhstan, Gilas Pilipinas’ most likely matchup in the quarterfinals of the 27th FIBA Asia Championship, has followed the model of the Middle Eastern powers, showing up in the coming Asian World Cup qualifier with a foreign coach and a naturalized player.

After a two-year absence in Asian basketball, Kazakhstan is looking to return with a bang, reinforced by Euro League veteran Jerry Jamar “Triple J” Johnson under Italian coach Matteo Boniciolli.

Equipped with tall frontcourt players and decent shooters, the Kazakhs have also filled a vacuum in their backcourt in naturalizing Johnson, the star guard of the Astana team in the Kazakhstan league.

Meanwhile, Thailand and Malaysia gained the last two slots in the 16-team Asian meet slated Aug. 1-11 in Manila in making the finals of the 10th SEABA Championship in Medan, Indonesia. The two teams were disputing the SEABA crown at press time.

Draw of lots will determine their groupings in the Asian joust with one of them joining Kazakhstan, India and Bahrain in Group D and the other finding itself in a tough cast in Group C with China, Iran and South Korea.

The Thais pulled the rug from under the Malaysians, 63-47, Saturday, and in the process booked a first appearance in the FIBA Asia Championship in over a decade.

Indonesia, the highest-ranked SEABA team after the Philippines, was eliminated in the fight for a ticket to the Manila joust following a shock loss to Singapore, 64-74, in its home turf in Medan.

Three teams from Southeast Asia compete in the FIBA Asia Championship as a result of Gilas Pilipinas’ fourth-place finish in the fourth FIBA Asia Cup in Tokyo, Japan last year.

Gilas Pilipinas now hopes to improve on that Tokyo showing as it aims to qualify to the 2014 FIBA World Cup even as a fierce competition looks in the offing in the regional eliminator with all traditional contenders coming armed to the teeth.

One of them is Kazakhstan, which is now training hard in Trieste, Italy. Next stop for the Kazakhs is Zrece, Slovenia before flying early to Manila for a tune-up game with Gilas Pilipinas.

Kazakhstan has become a lot dangerous with the addition of Johnson, a Rider University Hall of Famer who has carved a great niche in Euro basketball playing in Turkey, France, Belgium, Lithuania and now Kazakhstan.

The three-time All-MAAC First Team performer from Rider U brought his acts to Europe after missing the final cut in the LA Clippers team before the 2006 NBA season.

Kazakhstan is tipped to top Group D in the first round of the FIBA Asia prelims. Afterwards, it plays the top three from Group C which could well be China, Iran and South Korea.

And these four teams are expected to be the ones advancing to the knockout stage from their bracket.

Gilas Pilipinas would come from the other bracket, joined in by three among Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, Japan and Chinese Taipei. All six teams are set to compete with a naturalized player.

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