Gilas hopes to avoid Canada

Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - December 31, 2015 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – If there’s a country the Philippines won’t want to face in the FIBA Olympic qualifiers on July 4-10, it’s Canada. But the choice of which of the three groups to play in isn’t for Gilas to decide. The luck of the draw will situate the 18 countries bidding for three Olympic slots and from all indications, Canada’s bracket will be a virtual “Group of Death.”

Canada’s lineup lists seven NBA players, each capable of taking over a game as a go-to guy. The Magnificent Seven are 6-8 Anthony Bennett and 6-3 Cory Joseph of the Toronto Raptors, 6-9 Andrew Nicholson of the Orlando Magic, 7-0 Kelly Olynyk of the Boston Celtics, 7-0 Robert Sacre of the Los Angeles Lakers, 6-6 Nik Stauskas of the Philadelphia 76ers and 6-8 Andrew Wiggins of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The 18 countries will be split six to a group and only the winners of each group will advance to the Rio Olympics. Second place won’t count. The five unlucky teams that draw to play Canada won’t likely survive the qualifiers.

Another country that is heavily favored to make it to Brazil is Serbia which finished second at the 2014 FIBA World Cup but was beaten by Lithuania in the EuroBasket semifinals this year. Serbia failed to qualify for the 2008 and 2012 Olympics so star guard Milos Teodosic, who was named to the Mythical Five of the 2014 World Cup, said now is his chance to go to Rio.

So far, 15 teams are guaranteed slots in the three Olympic qualifiers – Angola, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Greece, Iran, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Senegal, Serbia and Tunisia. FIBA allocated five slots to Europe, one to Oceania and three to Asia, Africa and the Americas. Three more slots will be given to the three winning bidders hosting the Olympic qualifiers. In the short list of bidders in contention are Manila in the Philippines, Prague in the Czech Republic, Hamburg in Germany, Turin in Italy, Belgrade in Serbia and an still-to-be-determined city in Turkey. Struck out from the initial list of bidders were Greece, Iran, Israel and Mexico.

Of the six remaining bidders, only Germany and Turkey are not seeded to play in the Olympic qualifiers so that the only way either country can compete is by hosting one of the tournaments. If a winning bidder is seeded to play in the Olympic qualifiers, the next available finisher in that country’s continental championships will be added to the cast of 18. That will happen if up to three of the four seeded countries, namely, the Philippines, Czech Republic, Italy, Serbia, win the bid to host.

It’s likely Turkey, the host of the 2010 FIBA World Cup, will be eliminated before the 9-man FIBA Executive Committee meet to decide the three winning bidders at the governing body’s headquarters in Mies, near Geneva, Switzerland on Jan. 19. The draw for the three tournaments will be held at the House of Basketball in Mies on Jan. 26.

The three Asian, African and Americas countries will be spread out to the three tournaments. The Philippines, Japan and Iran will not be in the same city. If the Philippines wins the bid, the FIBA Asia fifth placer Lebanon will be invited to join the qualifiers and could end up in the same city. One tournament will bring in one European team and two tournaments will welcome two European teams. Canada, Greece and Serbia are teams to avoid but the luck of the “modified” draw will decide where they land in the qualifiers.

“The Olympic qualifiers are a great opportunity for teams who could not get the spots from EuroBasket and other tournaments to have another chance to get to the Olympics,” said Teodosic. “This is a dream for all of us – to go to the Olympics. My generation has never been to the Olympics.”

Nine teams are now booked for men’s basketball in Rio. The US is guaranteed a slot as the winner of the last World Cup and Brazil got an automatic ticket as the host nation. Seven others qualified via continental tournaments – Nigeria from Africa, Venezuela and Argentina from the Americas, China from Asia, Spain and Lithuania from Europe and Australia from Oceania. The three remaining slots will be filled by the champions of the three Olympic qualifiers.

Nearly 70 men’s teams participated in five continental championships from June to October this year to determine the seven Olympic qualifiers. At the FIBA Asia Championships in Changsha last Sept. 23-Oct. 3, 16 teams competed with China beating the Philippines, 78-67, in the final. By virtue of its victory, China gained an outright ticket to Rio. Second-place Philippines, third-place Iran and fourth-place Japan were given another chance to make it to Rio through the Olympic qualifiers.

Each Olympic qualifying tournament will involve only five playing days. The six teams will be split into two groups of three in the preliminaries where the games are played round robin among groupmates. Then, the top two placers after three days will advance to the crossover knockout semifinals. The two survivors will play in the final for the ticket to Rio.

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