Tough draw but Gilas won’t back down

Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - January 27, 2016 - 9:00am

MIES – The Philippines will play France and New Zealand in the group stage of the FIBA Olympic qualifiers at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena in July with the goal of finishing first or second for a slot to the semifinals and a chance to earn a ticket to Rio.

FIBA conducted a modified draw at the House of Basketball in this Swiss city, near Geneva, last Tuesday night (yesterday early morning, Manila time) and situated the 18 participating teams in three qualifying tournaments of six each. Aside from the Philippines, the other host countries are Serbia and Italy.

FIBA sport and competitions director Predrag Bogosavljev presided over the draw which also included the Olympic qualifiers for women. Assisting Bogosavljev in the women’s draw were Los Angeles Sparks WNBA player Ana Dabovic of Serbia and three-time Olympian Ilonia Korstin of Russia. For the men’s draw, 12-year NBA veteran Radoslav Nesterovic of Slovenia and former Toronto Raptors forward Jorge Garbajosa of Spain were on stage with Bogosavljev.

The 18 teams in the men’s qualifiers were split into six pots based on quality and geographical principles. A key factor in determining the quality of teams was their performance in the continental championships last year. A main objective of the draw was to disperse teams from the same FIBA zone, taking into account the relative strength of each continent.

To even out the competition, Bogosavljev classified the 18 countries into six “pots” of three each. None of the countries in a pot would be in the same tournament. The first pot listed France, Serbia and Greece. The second had Italy, Czech Republic and Canada. The third was made up of the Philippines, Iran and Japan. The fourth was composed of Angola, Tunisia and Senegal. The fifth consisted of Latvia, Croatia and Turkey. Mexico, Puerto Rico and New Zealand were in the sixth pot.

For the men’s draw, Bogosavljev picked the groups for the three tournaments from three bowls while Nesterovic pulled out the countries from six bowls and Garbajosa, the position of each country within a group from six other bowls. The process went like clockwork.

For the Belgrade tournament, Group A listed No. 1 Serbia, No. 2 Angola and No. 3 Puerto Rico while Group B listed No. 1 Japan, No. 2 Czech Republic and No. 3 Latvia. For the Manila tournament, Group A listed No. 1 Turkey, No. 2 Senegal and No. 3 Canada while Group B listed No. 1 France, No. 2 New Zealand and No. 3 Philippines. For the Turin tournament, Group A listed No. 1 Greece, No. 2 Mexico and No. 3 Iran while Group B listed No. 1 Tunisia, No. 2 Croatia and No. 3 Italy.

Based on the draw, this will be the schedule for the group stage in the Manila tournament. July 5 – Turkey vs Canada, France vs Philippines. July 6 – Canada vs Senegal, Philippines vs New Zealand. July 7 – Senegal vs Turkey, New Zealand vs France. July 8 will be a rest day. The two semifinal games will be played on July 9 and the final will be on July 10.

“It’ll be a challenge for us to get through but with our Sixth Man, the world’s Most Valuable Fans, anything can happen,” said SBP executive director Sonny Barrios who flew here to witness the draw. “Coach (Tab) wished Greece wouldn’t be in our tournament and luckily, he got his wish. But in the group stage, we’ll contend with France and New Zealand. If we make it to the semifinals, we’ll play either Canada or Turkey.”

Only the winner of the tournament will advance to Rio. FIBA director of communications Patrick Koller said for the Philippines to qualify for the Olympics, it must be able to beat countries like France, Turkey, New Zealand and Canada.  “You’ve got to beat the best to play against the best,” he said.

“We’ve got strong teams in our group,” said SBP president Manny V. Pangilinan in a text from Manila. “We’ll have our hands full. We’d better start thinking of the best players we can get our hands on against these five formidable teams. This is going to be one hell of a ride for Gilas and our country.”

Of the countries chosen to play in Manila, only New Zealand was not represented at the draw. Canadian Basketball Federation president Michele O’Keefe, French Basketball Federation director general Yann Barbitch and Turkish Basketball Federation president Harun Erdenay attended the draw and were assured by Barrios of a warm welcome in Manila.

O’Keefe said she’s confident national coach Jay Triano will be able to recruit Canada’s NBA veterans for Manila but may not finalize the roster until two weeks before the tournament. “I’m excited to come to Manila,” she said. “I know how much Filipinos love basketball. In Canada, every time we need to get a big audience for a basketball game, we reach out to our Filipino residents.” Canada has at least seven NBA players on the national team, including Cory Joseph and Anthony Bennett of the Raptors, Andrew Wiggins of Minnesota, Kelly Olynyk of Boston and Robert Sacre of the Los Angeles Lakers.


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