WHILE the Philippine basketball team loads its roster with pros and looks to add an American reinforcement, rival nations are also beefing up their teams for the Guangzhou 16th Asian Games set from November 12 to 27.
Iran has welcomed back sharp shooter Hamed Afagh, who sat out the 2010 Fiba World Championship in August in Turkey because of a knee injury.
The return of Afagh, who averaged 14 points per game in the 25th Fiba Asia Championship in Tianjin, was a welcome development for the team of coach Veselin Matic as the Iranians will be missing the services of star center Hamed Hadadi and versatile Samad Nikkah.
The Philippines is slightly favored over Saudi Arabia and is expected to advance to the tournament proper in Group F with Iran, Qatar, Japan, Chinese Taipei and the winner of the Afghanistan-India match.
Smart Gilas head coach Rajko Toroman said in a previous interview that Iran could be beaten minus its two stars Hadadi and Nikkah. But they have become more formidable with the return of 27-year-old Afagh.
Qatar, according to Toroman, is also a dangerous foe with its new acquisitions and seasoned veterans and the recent hiring of American coach Matthew Skillman, who replaced Ali Ahmed Fakhroo. Qatar was the silver medalist in the 2006 Asian Games in Doha.
“If we win against Saudi Arabia, we will be in a very tough group,” said Toroman, whose team will be beefed up by Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) mainstays Asi Taulava, Kelly Williams and Solomon Mercado.
Skillman also said Qatar is in a difficult group with Fiba Asia champion Iran, emerging power Chinese Taipei and Japan. Skillman was Qatar’s Under-18 head coach in the Fiba Asia U-18 Championship in Yemen.
The Iranians were the bronze-medal winners in Doha, but won’t be as tough as in the 2009 Fiba-Asia Championship in Tianjin, where they swept the opposition behind the seven-foot-three Hadadi and six-foot-eight Nikkah. They beat host China in the gold-medal match.
Hadadi will skip the Asian Games to focus on his job with the Memphis Grizzlies in the National Basketball Association, while Nikkah is still recuperating from an injury.
With Chinese stars Yao Ming and Yi Jinlian also not suiting up for China in Guanzghou, Toroman said the Philippines has a better chance of landing in the medal rounds.
“But we have to take care of Saudi first,” said Toroman, adding that the Saudis are solid, with some national players having seen action in the Dubai invitational tournament.
Joel Orellana, Business Mirror