Baumann foresees ‘killer’ tournament

Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - January 29, 2016 - 9:00am

MIES – FIBA secretary-general Patrick Baumann said the other day the Olympic qualifier that Manila will host at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena on July 5-10 will be a “killer tournament” and cautioned foreign teams not to take the Philippines lightly in the six-nation battle for a ticket to Rio.

“I can understand why some teams don’t want to play Serbia in Serbia or Italy in Italy because they have to contend with passionate fans,” said Baumann. “The preference was to play in the Philippines instead. But I think teams that take the Philippines lightly may be in for a surprise. We, at FIBA, know what ‘puso’ means. Filipino fans are among the most passionate in the world. The homecourt advantage will certainly be a factor.”

Baumann said the Philippines is in a tough bracket but that’s no exception. “To make it to the Olympics, the Philippines has to beat the best to be on top of the qualifying tournament,” he said. “In the Olympics, 12 teams are playing and only the best will be in Rio. So the three teams that win the three qualifying tournaments will be among the 12 best in the world.”

In the group stage of the Manila tournament, the Philippines will play France and New Zealand. The teams in the other group are Turkey, Senegal and Canada. The top two placers of each group will advance to the knockout crossover semifinals where the survivors move on to dispute the ticket to Rio.

Baumann said he’s not sure to come to Manila for the tournament. Belgrade and Turin will also host Olympic qualifiers but the finals in both cities will be held a day before the championship game in Manila. FIBA sport and competitions director Predrag Bogosavljev, however, confirmed his attendance in Manila as right after the final, he will conduct the last draw for the Rio Olympics in a press conference.

The initial draw for the Rio Olympics will be held at the FIBA House of Basketball in this Swiss city on March 11. The draw will involve dividing 12 participating countries into two groups. But only nine of the 12 entries will be known at the time because the Olympic qualifiers for the last three slots are still to be staged in July. The draw will situate the nine countries and determine which group will be allocated one or two slots for the three qualifying winners. After the Manila tournament, the last Rio draw will name the three teams to fill the vacant slots.

In the Olympic format, the 12 teams are split into two groups. The teams play groupmates once with the top four finishers of both groups advancing to the knockout quarterfinals. The winners of the four quarterfinal games then play in the knockout semifinals with the survivors vying for the gold medal in the final and the losers battling for the bronze.

Baumann said the format for this year’s Olympic qualifiers is unprecedented. For the first time in Olympic basketball history, the qualifiers will involve 18 teams split into six playing in three separate tournaments. Baumann said the plan is to involve 24 teams in four tournaments in the qualifiers for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics but the format is still being finalized.

So far, guaranteed to play in Rio are 2014 World Cup champion US, the top two EuroBasket finishers Spain and Lithuania, the top two FIBA Americas finishers Venezuela and Argentina, FIBA Asia champion China, FIBA African champion Nigeria, FIBA Oceania champion Australia and host Brazil. The winners of the Manila, Belgrade and Turin qualifiers will join the nine early qualifiers to complete the cast of 12.

The Belgrade tournament will feature Serbia, Angola, Puerto Rico in Group A and Japan, Czech Republic and Latvia in Group B. The Turin tournament will feature Greece, Mexico and Iran in Group A and Tunisia, Croatia and Italy in Group B.

In the Manila tournament, only No. 31 Senegal is outranked by No. 28 Philippines in the FIBA world ladder. France has the highest ranking at No. 5. Turkey is No. 8, New Zealand No. 21 and Canada No. 26.

France is the odds-on favorite to qualify out of Manila. The French magazine Mondial Basket recently listed 15 candidates for the national team, including NBA veterans (past and current) Tony Parker, Nando de Colo, Evan Fournier, Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw, Joffrey Lauvergne, Kevin Seraphin, Joakim Noah, Alexis Ajinca, Rudy Gobert and Ian Mahinmi.

The Philippines plays France in its qualifier debut on July 5. French coach Vincent Collet piloted France to first place at the 2013 EuroBasket and third place at the 2014 World Cup. In a pocket tournament in Antibes before the 2014 World Cup, France beat the Philippines, 75-68, without Parker.

New Zealand is the second team the Philippines will play on July 6. New Zealand wasn’t represented at the FIBA Olympic qualifying draw last Tuesday but a FIBA official said the Tall Blacks will be bannered in Manila by 7-foot Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams, now in his third NBA season. Adams, 22, was born in New Zealand to an English father and a Tongan mother. The 255-pound giant played a season with the University of Pittsburgh varsity then joined the NBA draft where he was picked by the Thunder in the first round in 2013. His sister Valerie is a four-time world shot put champion and won gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

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