Freeman Cebu Sports

Olympic qualifier in Manila

BLEACHER TALK - Rico S. Navarro - The Freeman

Mark you calendars folks: July 4-10, 2016. If the Philippines lost out to China in the bidding for the 2019 FIBA World Cup for basketball, we've got something a tad close to it. The Philippines was awarded the rights to host the one of three Olympics Qualifier Tournaments that seeks to add three more teams to the 2016 Rio Olympics. Yes, the Olympic Games which takes place from August 5 to 21 in Brazil. This may not yet be the FIBA World Cup nor the Olympics, but it’s one level right below these two biggest events of basketball outside the NBA.

The teams that will see action in Manila and the two other hosts Turin in Italy and Belgrade in Serbia will be determined via a drawing of lots on Tuesday at the FIBA head office in Switzerland. These are the countries that failed to make it outright to the Olympics through thee various continental qualifier tournaments. For Asia, this was last year’s FIBA Asia Championship where Gilas Pilipinas won the silver medal. No less than Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas Executive Director Sonny Barrios is representing the country in this historical draw. The only sure teams are the hosts themselves: Italy, Serbia and the Philippines. The other countries that will be seeking that second chance to qualify for the Olympics are Angola, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Greece, Iran, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Senegal, Serbia, Tunisia, Latvia, and Croatia.

These teams may not be that familiar with basketball fans but it should be interesting to note that all teams are loaded with NBA-level talent. Tony Paker, Boris Diaw, and Nicolas Batum play for France. Looks like Joakim Noah won’t be able to join the squad after his injury. But wouldn’t you love to see them play here in Manila? New York’s rising star Kristaps Porzingis is a shoo-in to make it to the Latvian team and I would love to see him in action, wouldn’t you? And how can I forget Canada? Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, top draft picks of the NBA, are Canadians. Then you also have fellow Canadians Kelly Olynyk of the Celtics and Cory Joseph of Toronto. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks plays for the Greece national team. Remember Renaldo Balkman, the former PBA import who has been banned from the PBA indefinitely? He plays for the Puerto Rico along with JJ Barea of the Dallas Mavericks. Barea single-handedly beat us at the FIBA World Cup of 2014, remember? This is a two-way wish for us Pinoy fans. While we wish the draw would send the weakest teams to Manila in July, we also wish that we get a chance to see some of the best players dribble on the hardcourt of the MOA Arena. I can already see it happening. If France is drawn to play here, you can bet that Tony Parker and San Antonio fans will troop to see him play. I’m also guessing that Pinoy fans would love to check out the Porzingis effect. Is this going to be another Jeremy Lin thing?

The other factor that will also come into play is the fact that the Philippines has proven to be an excellent host for international basketball tournaments and other international events. The FIBA Asia Championships of 2013 was a great example of this where even the foreign teams, officials and analysts were impressed with the way we Pinoys passionately follow basketball. The highlight of the games was the slogan “Puso” which went viral over social media. This was the country’s primary tool in winning the silver medal in that tournament, giving us the right to play in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, a first since the 1978 World Championships which we hosted (and for which we got an automatic slot). The downside to the “Puso” and passion approach was that this wasn’t good enough to win the bidding for the 2019 FIBA World Cup. China’s infrastructure, sports venues, transportation and accommodations were too much of an edge over heart and passion. But the FIBA surely didn't and couldn’t afford to forget us, could they? As soon as the FIBA Asia ended, we became automatic candidates to host one of these OQTs. After missing out on the FIBA World Cup, we had to be a logical choice to be a host. For starters, Asia had to be considered as a venue as FIBA can’t have all of these in Europe or the American continents. The positive development about the FIBA World Cup bidding was that the country’s proposal surely left an impression on those who made decisions on hosting. This made the Philippines a favorite to host a OQT. No new documents or paper requirements were needed; just the usual money up front upon declaring an intent to host. My guess is that when the intent was declared, the decision was a no brainer. Manila was a sure host and it was most likely more “stressful” for the FIBA to determine the two other OQT hosts.

This early, basketball fans are already excited. I’m sure ticket sales will pick up the moment the draws are determined and tickets are ready for selling. Again, the tough question now is do we want the weakest teams to come to Manila so Gilas Pilipinas has a chance to make it to the Olympics? Or do we pray for the likes of Parker, Porzingis, Wiggins and Barea to make it here (and lessen our chicness of making it)? Not a bad way to start out basketball year now, is it?

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