Diaw, Batum doubtful for Manila
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - January 27, 2016 - 9:00am

MIES – French Basketball Federation director general Yann Barbitch said the other day NBA veterans Boris Diaw of the San Antonio Spurs and Nicolas Batum of the Charlotte Hornets may not play in the FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena on July 5-10 because they will be free agents negotiating new pro contracts this summer.

“We’re not sure about Boris and Nicolas,” said Barbitch after the FIBA draw at the House of Basketball in this Swiss city. “Their priority is to work on a new contract. The NBA season ends on June 30 then they’ll begin to negotiate. It doesn’t leave too much time for them to play in Manila. As for Tony (Parker), it will depend on his health. If he’s fit and fine, I’m sure he’ll play for France in the Olympic qualifier.”

Other NBA players in the French squad are 6-10 Joffrey Lauvergne of Denver, 7-1 Rudy Gobert of Utah and 6-6 Evan Fournier of Orlando. Former NBA cager Nando de Colo is now playing for CKSA Moscow but Barbitch said he expects the 6-5 sharpshooter to be back in the majors next season. De Colo will be in Manila, added Barbitch.

“Our national basketball team is second only to our football team in popularity all over France,” said Barbitch. “Our basketball players are well known both on and off the court. Fans love Tony Parker, for instance, because the average Frenchman can relate to him. Tony’s not exceptionally tall, his height is just average. We’ll probably come with a delegation of 30, including at least 10 from media.”

Writer Yann Ohnona, grand reporter of the French daily sports newspaper L’Equipe, said he was impressed with the Philippine team that played France in a pocket tournament in Antibes before the World Cup in Spain in 2014. France defeated Gilas, 75-68, as Batum scored 16 points. Diaw, De Colo, Fournier, Gobert, Lauvergne and another NBA veteran Ian Mahinmi suited up for France. Gilas was led by Andray Blatche with 12 points, seven rebounds and two assists. Paul Lee also shot 12 points while Jeff Chan hit nine and Jimmy Alapag and Ranidel de Ocampo eight each. Blatche and Marcus Douthit played alternately. Blatche logged 26:33 minutes while Douthit played 13:26.

“My description of the Philippine team is unpredictable,” said Ohnona. “They play a fun game. I’m looking forward to going to Manila and covering the tournament.” France, coached by Vincent Collet, will be the Philippines’ first assignment on July 5. Collet, 52, piloted France to first place at the 2013 EuroBasket and third place at the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

France, Serbia and Greece were in the first “pot” of the draw. Since Serbia is hosting one of the three qualifying tournaments, either France or Greece was destined to play in Manila. Gilas coach Tab Baldwin earlier said, “if they pull Greece, tell them to put it back.” So Baldwin got his wish. At the 2014 FIBA World Cup, the Philippines was overpowered by Greece, 82-70.

Turkish Basketball Federation president Harun Erdenay said he’s looking forward to visiting Manila. Turkey was drawn to play in Group A with Senegal and Canada at the MOA Arena.

“We’ll go to Manila a week before the tournament to acclimatize,” said Erdenay. “Maybe, we can arrange for tune-up games with the Philippines since we’re in different groups in the preliminaries. Turkish Airlines flies directly from Istanbul to Manila so we won’t be slowed down by any stopover.”

FIBA Europe president and Central Board and Executive Committee member Turgay Demirel of Turkey said he’s aware it won’t be easy beating the Philippines because of the homecourt advantage. “I know Filipinos can shoot from anywhere,” he said. NBA veteran Hedo Turkoglu will join the team in Manila not as a player but as the chief executive of the Turkish federation. Demirel said he doesn’t expect Oklahoma City’s Enes Kanter to make the trip but NBA veterans Omer Asik of New Orleans, Ersan Ilyasova of Detroit and Furkan Aldemir of Philadelphia should be in the lineup.

Canadian Basketball Federation president Michele O’Keefe said the national team will likely play tune-up games in Europe before proceeding to Manila. Otherwise, the team will fly directly to Manila from Vancouver on Philippine Airlines. She expressed confidence that Canada’s NBA players will suit up for the national team. Canada hasn’t played basketball in the Olympics since finishing seventh of 12 in Sydney in 2000. Canada’s last appearance at the FIBA World Cup was in 2010 when it placed 22nd of 24.

New Zealand is a team that Baldwin is familiar with. Baldwin migrated to New Zealand in 1988 and is a four-time New Zealand league Coach of the Year. In 2002, Baldwin took the Tall Blacks to fourth place at the FIBA World Cup. Baldwin has dual American and New Zealand citizenship. Among the top players on the New Zealand squad are 6-2 Corey Webster who played for New Orleans in the NBA preseason last October, 6-6 Thomas Abercrombie of Washington State, 6-3 Lindsay Tait who is of Maori descent, 6-6 Mika Vukona who is half Fijian and 6-8 Isaac Fotu who is half Tongan. Fotu now plays for Zaragoza in the Spanish league. The Philippines will play the Tall Blacks on July 6.

SBP executive director Sonny Barrios said talking with other country officials who attended the draw, he found out most wanted to play in Manila. “I think the European countries are tired of playing in Europe and Manila was the only host outside of Europe,” said Barrios. “Also, they know about Filipino hospitality and how we love basketball. They asked about the MOA Arena and what is its capacity. We’ll be ready to host a world-class tournament.”

ACIRC BALDWIN BARBITCH FRANCE MANILA NBA NEW NEW ZEALAND PLAY TEAM WORLD CUP
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