Gearing up for FIBA window

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - January 19, 2021 - 12:00am

The assumption is the games of the FIBA Asia Cup third qualifying window involving eight countries in Groups A and C will take place in the Clark bubble on Feb. 18-22. The pandemic, however, may throw a monkey wrench into the plans. Three of the eight countries in the two groups are in the travel ban list of 34 issued by the Philippine government “to curb the entry of the B117 variant of COVID-19” up to Jan. 31. They are South Korea in Group A and Australia and Hong Kong in Group C. The other countries in the coming Clark bubble are Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines in Group A and New Zealand and Guam in Group C.

Here’s the schedule released so far by FIBA for the Clark window – Feb. 18, South Korea vs. Philippines, New Zealand vs. Guam, Hong Kong vs. Australia; Feb. 19, South Korea vs. Indonesia; Feb. 20, Philippines vs. Indonesia, Thailand vs. South Korea; Feb. 21, Hong Kong vs. New Zealand, Australia vs. Guam; Feb. 22, Philippines vs. South Korea, Indonesia vs. Thailand. Still to be scheduled are Group C games that were suspended in the first and second windows – Hong Kong vs. Guam (two games), Guam vs. Australia, New Zealand vs. Hong Kong and New Zealand vs. Australia. The standings are in Group A, Philippines 3-0, South Korea 2-0, Indonesia 1-2 and Thailand 0-4 and in Group C, New Zealand 2-0, Australia 1-1, Guam 0-1 and Hong Kong 0-1. It’s the last qualifying window before the eliminations involving the six third place finishers of each group and the actual FIBA Asia Cup in Jakarta on Aug. 16-28.

The Philippines is set to begin all-hands-on-deck training at the Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna, on Friday. The first batch of 12 players checked in at the Calamba bubble last Jan. 10 and two more entered last Friday. So far, three PBA players have reported for duty – Kiefer Ravena, C. J. Perez and Justin Chua. The non-pros are Isaac Go, Rey Suerte, Matt and Mike Nieto, Justine Baltazar, Javi Gomez de Liaño, Dave Ildefonso, Will Navarro, Calvin Oftana, Kemark Carino and naturalization candidate Ange Kouame. More PBA players are expected to show up this week.

Gilas head coach Jong Uichico said the grind of twice-a-day practice plus weight training has started for the early entrants. Project director Tab Baldwin is in the bubble along with the coaching staff that includes Norman Black and Caloy Garcia. Uichico said everyone was tested once before going to Calamba and once more upon arrival. “We were quarantined until our results came out which was approximately 1 1/2 days,” he said.

The SBP reportedly submitted a wish list of some 16 PBA players to join the bubble but six aren’t available due to either injury or being out of the country. Matthew Wright, for instance, is abroad. If Kouame is unable to secure his naturalization papers on time, there will be a slot open for an “import” in the Gilas roster. Although listed as locals in the PBA, Fil-foreigners Christian Standhardinger and Stanley Pringle are classified as “naturalized imports” by FIBA. So either may be enlisted for Gilas under the rule of one naturalized import per national team. Both played for Gilas separately as naturalized imports during the FIBA Asia/Pacific qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA World Cup. Standhardinger saw action in two games against Iran while Pringle played against Qatar and Kazakhstan.

Standhardinger sat out NorthPort’s last game in the Clark bubble last November and it’s not certain if he’s 100 percent healthy. However, he’s in town. With June Mar Fajardo still out of commission, Gilas badly needs to shore up its frontline particularly as Indonesia is parading former PBA import Lester Prosper and South Korea is expected to be bannered by Ra Gun-ah (Ricardo Ratliffe). Japeth Aguilar, Raymond Almazan, Beau Belga and Poy Erram are options at center with Ian Sangalang and Troy Rosario at the four spot. By Friday, the Gilas pool should have been finalized to begin full-scale training.

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