MANILA, Philippines - It won’t be smooth sailing for the Smart-Gilas national basketball team at the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou on Nov. 12-27 as the Philippines attempts to capture its first medal in the quadrennial event since bagging a bronze in 1998.
In a scary format, the Philippines will be pitted against Saudi Arabia in a knockout first game between unseeded teams to determine qualification to the second round. Other do-or-die openers are Afghanistan against India, Hong Kong against North Korea against Kuwait (in a three-way series) and Turkmenistan against Mongolia.
If the Philippines beats Saudi Arabia, it will advance to the second round to play Iran, Qatar, Chinese-Taipei, Japan and the Afghanistan-India survivor in Group F. The top four finishers move on to the knockout quarterfinals where the four winners face off in the semifinals to decide the finalists.
If the Philippines loses to Saudi Arabia, it will be the end to a short-lived crusade.
Making up Group E are defending champion China, South Korea, Jordan, Uzbekistan, the Hong Kong-North Korea-Kuwait survivor and the Turkmenistan-Mongolia winner. Curiously, Asian title contenders Lebanon and Kazakhstan will not compete in Guangzhou.
To make it to the finals, the Philippines must survive three knockout games and play eight contests.
At the last Asian Games in Doha four years ago, China took the gold medal with Qatar claiming the silver and Iran, the bronze.
The draw was held last Oct. 7 and FIBA-Asia secretary-general Dato Yeoh Choo Hock of Malaysia said it went smoothly with no technical error or protest. “I believe the basketball matches will be very interesting,” said Dato Yeoh. “It will certainly attract many fans to the court. It is the first time that the Asian Games basketball tournament will be played in four different venues. I have no doubt the Asian Games will be a great success and basketball can be one of the most interesting sports among the Asian sports family.”
Games will be held at the Huangpu Gym, Guangti Gym, Ying Dong Gym and the Sports and Entertainment Center.
Smart Gilas coach Rajko Toroman said he’s not comfortable with the knockout format in the opening round. “I don’t agree with it,” he said. “There must be a qualification (tournament) before the Asian Games so that the best 12 teams will be in Guangzhou, not one game to decide.”
Toroman declined to speculate which teams will advance from the Philippines’ second round bracket if it defeats Saudi Arabia but said Qatar and Japan are strong contenders. Without singling out the favorites, he hinted that Chinese-Taipei and the Afghanistan-India survivor may miss the cut, leaving Iran, the Philippines, Qatar and Japan to move to the quarterfinals.
Gilas team manager Frankie Lim said he’s confident the Philippines will beat Saudi Arabia and advance to the quarterfinals with Iran, Qatar and Japan.
SBP executive director Noli Eala said the knockout format in the first round “lacks imagination and is unfair especially to participating teams that are not seeded.” He explained that “the format is influenced by the number of teams that are joining but considering the preparations of each team, the knockout format is too harsh.” Eala said a pre-qualifying tournament would’ve been a fair option “but that’s the decision and we just have to prepare.”
Eala said in the second round, anything can happen.
“We can’t take anybody lightly,” he added. “I heard even Afghanistan is a good team. I’ll say, though, that it’ll be the Philippines, Qatar, Iran and Japan that will move to the quarters. But Taipei will give a good fight. Iran will have problems if Hamed Haddadi and Samah Nikkah Bahrami don’t play. Qatar, I heard, has six starters with injuries so that’s an issue.”
Last Sunday morning, Gilas cager Marcio Lassiter planed in from San Francisco with his US-born Filipina girlfriend Jerlyn Pangilinan and their 19-month-old son Montae Izaiyah. His return to Manila ended an unauthorized month-long absence during which he underwent therapy in Los Angeles.
Lassiter was expected to report to the Gilas practice yesterday. His agent Caloy Allado said Lassiter has agreed to pay about P45,000 in fines over six months for his leave. Gilas management advanced the payment of his $3,100 medical bills.
Joaquin Henson, Philippine Star