Cone: Homecrowd to play major role
Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - January 22, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – The PBA’s winningest coach Tim Cone of Barangay Ginebra San Miguel said yesterday the homecourt advantage could make a difference in Gilas’ quest for a ticket to the Rio Summer Games and called out Filipino fans to pack the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena to the rafters when the Philippines hosts one of three Olympic qualifiers on July 4-10.

The Philippines was picked to host a qualifying tournament by FIBA in an Executive Committee decision announced at the international body’s headquarters in Mies, near Geneva, last Tuesday. Turin in Italy and Belgrade in Serbia were chosen to host the other two qualifiers. Because the Philippines, Italy and Serbia were among the 15 seeds in the three tournaments, three countries were elevated to complete the cast of 18 with six to each qualifier.

The three countries added to the cast were all from Europe – Latvia, Croatia and Turkey. Since the three hosts were seeded, the process of substitution was supposed to elevate the next highest placers in the continental championships. In the Philippines case, the fifth FIBA Asia finisher Lebanon would’ve been invited to the qualifiers but FIBA decided to bring in Turkey instead. China, Philippines, Iran and Japan ended up ahead of Lebanon in Changsha last year.

“Lebanon is currently not in good standing with FIBA Asia,” said FIBA director of communications Patrick Koller. “Therefore, the FIBA Executive Committee used its right to choose a replacement and in line with the FIBA world rankings and the final standings of the 2015 continental championships, decided to extend an invitation to Turkey.”

At the Eurobasket last year, Turkey finished No. 14. Israel, Poland, Slovenia and Belgium wound up ahead of Turkey in the standings but Turkey was picked because it is ranked No. 8 in the world. Lebanon was suspended for judicial and political issues by FIBA in July 2013 but was reinstated in May the next year. It is ranked No. 43 in the world.

Latvia placed eighth in last year’s Eurobasket and Croatia ninth. They were the next highest finishers after Spain, Lithuania, France, Serbia, Greece, Italy and the Czech Republic. Spain and Lithuania advanced to the Rio Olympics by virtue of their 1-2 windup while France, Serbia, Greece, Italy and the Czech Republic will play in the qualifiers.

The 18 countries participating in the Olympic qualifiers are Angola, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Greece, Iran, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Senegal, Serbia, Tunisia and Turkey.  The composition is broken down into eight countries from Europe, three each from the Americas, Asia and Africa and one from Oceania.

“The homecourt advantage is huge,” said Cone. “At the FIBA Asia Championships in 2013, we got a big lift from the crowd when we beat South Korea in the semifinals. It was great coaching by Chot (Reyes) but the fans also helped by cheering for Gilas from the start. When we host the Olympic qualifiers, maybe we’ll get some home cooking. Our players are used to the venue conditions. They’re familiar with the rims. I’m not suggesting we do like the Boston Celtics (during the Red Auerbach era) when they shut off the air-conditioning and the hot water in the opposing team’s lockerrooms. But that gives you an idea of what a host can do.”

Cone said with Ginebra, he appreciates the support from the fans. “I can see how the fans are so important,” he said. “The qualifiers will be tough. We won’t know whom we play until the draw on Jan. 26.” It appears that in the Philippines bracket, there will be at least two teams from Europe. The draw will not be conducted on an open basis with FIBA making sure of geographical and competitive balance. The other Asian countries, Iran and Japan, will likely be bracketed in the groups which the Philippines won’t be hosting. Only the winners of the three tournaments will advance to Rio.

“I’m excited about the qualifiers,” said Cone. “I’m hoping JuneMar (Fajardo) will be ready to play. Right now, he’s playing at a level much higher than when he played at the 2013 FIBA Asia and 2014 FIBA World Cup. Anything can happen when the knockout playoffs begin in the semifinals. As a coach, I never want to play in a knockout in the PBA. I’ve told the PBA commissioner (Chito Narvasa) that in the current Philippine Cup, the single knockout playoffs in the second phase of the quarterfinals put teams in the semifinals by luck.  In any conference, you work not to get into a situation where you play in a knockout. You never want to be in a Game 7.”

ACIRC ASIA AND AFRICA ASIA CHAMPIONSHIPS AT THE EUROBASKET BECAUSE THE PHILIPPINES EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE FIBA IRAN AND JAPAN ITALY AND THE CZECH REPUBLIC PHILIPPINES QUALIFIERS
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