POT LUCK: Getting Lucky In The Olympic Qualifying Draw

By this time, everyone knows who the 18 countries vying for three Olympic slots are. (in case you don’t know, they are France, Serbia, Italy, Canada, Czech Republic, Greece, Angola, Iran, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Croatia,  Tunisia, Turkey, Japan, Latvia, Mexico, Senegal and the Philippines)

But this time, everyone would also know that we will be hosting one of the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments, a distinct honor and a tremendous advantage accorded to our basketball team.
With the draw looming in a few hours, let’s take a quick look at which teams would give us the better chance of winning the Manila leg.
Caveat: the Gilas lineup I’m using for this comparison includes not just a fit Andray Blatche, but also a fully healed Junemar Fajardo plus Jordan Clarkson.
But first, a look at the draw pots:

And now, analyzing the probable match ups:
POT 1 – Serbia is a host so we’ll never face them. It comes down to France vs Greece and while I would dearly love to see how Jayson Castro matches up against  Tony Parker, how Terence Romeo will react to seeing Rudy Gobert in his path, how Ranidel de Ocampo will fare against Nicolas Batum, playing Greece is a much better option for us. Greece is a good team but they haven’t been as successful in the world stage as they were a decade ago. I’d say we lose big against the French but win by about 5-8 points versus Greece.
POT 2 – Italy is hosting a qualifier too so it’s down to the Czech Republic and Canada. Again, it goes down to Canada is the more mindblowing squad to play against (Andrew Wiggins vs Gabe Norwood, Tristan Thompson vs Junemar Fajardo) but playing the Czechs gives us a better chance of winning.  Placing a respectable 7th at Eurobasket 2014, the Czechs have a couple of dangerous Euroleague stars like jan Vesely. Tomas Satoransky and Jiri Welsch. Again, I think we’d lose big against Canada but win by about 8 points against the Czechs.
POT 3 –  As this is our pot, neither Japan nor Iran will be placed in the same group as us.
POT 4 – All three African teams are equally good so there’s really not much to separate them. However, if we had the choice, I say we wish for Senegal, a team with which we have some history with. Remember, in the 2014 FIBA World Championships, Senegalese basketball officials and players taunted SBP officials before the game, mocking them with chants to go home. Gilas got some payback by inflicting a loss on Senegal. Maybe it’s time Senegalese felt the heat from a hostile Filipino crowd. Also, I’m pretty sure Gilas players like Blatche, Fajardo, Castro and de Ocampo have not forgotten that incident. I predict we win over Senegal by 12 points.
POT 5 – Between Latvia, Croatia and Turkey, we better hope we don’t get Croatia. The Croats are a world-class team with versatile players who are deadly long range shooters and we’d never be able to match up with them. Turkey is likewise a difficult matchup, with skilled big men like Enes Kanter, Omer Asik and Ersan Ilyasova anchoring the Turkish frontline. Latvia is still an emerging European power, with Kristaps Porzingis being our nightmare match up. Which makes them our easiest opponent yet, as we’d need to figure out how to neutralize one superstar, as opposed to several.  A win over Latvia by 5.
POT 6 – This pot is easily the weakest (aside from our pot). Mexico is the most dangerous team here so we can set them aside. I’d normally say we should play New Zealand but seeing as how I think we can beat Puerto Rico as well, we should wish for Puerto Rico. This will be payback for knocking us out of the group stages of FIBA World Championship, when JJ Barea went all amok on us. We win over Puerto Rico by 10.

So that’s my wishlist for the Manila leg of the Olympic Qualifier: Greece, Czech Republic, Senegal, Latvia, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Here’s hoping we get the easy route to the Olympics.

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To Play Or Not To Play

In the days that came after Gilas brought home the silver medal in the FIBA Asia Championships and a slot in the Rio Olympic qualifiers, controversy struck the Philippine basketball scene. Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas Chairman Manny Pangilinan opined that we should consider giving up our slot in the Olympic qualifiers, if we could not secure the needed support from all Philippine basketball stakeholders.
In fact, Mr. Pangilinan practically admitted that, given the strength of the other teams in the Olympic qualifiers, Gilas 3.0 as constructed had little to no chance of snagging a ticket to Rio. But he also left a door open, saying that if a commitment can be attained from the PBA that the SBP will have full access to all the players, then he not only send a Gilas team but would also bid to be a host for one of the qualifying tournaments.
Our current situation is replete with political issues and maneuverings, which this writer is not in any way an expert of. So let’s stick with the basketball side of things and answer this question: Should we send a team to the Olympic qualifiers?
And the answer to that is: Yes. But not for sentimental or emotional reasons. We should send a team for the right reasons. And as far as I’m concerned, there are only two “right” reasons.
Right Reason #1 – If we can realistically win a ticket to Rio. That means sending the best team we can possibly form. Which means players like June Mar Fajardo, Paul Lee, Jeff Chan and Jordan Clarkson must be on the squad. Ironically, it’s Jordan Clarkson who may be the easiest to get on board.
That also means Andray Blatche must be in playing shape, and that there are no injuries to key players like Jayson Castro, Gabe Norwood, Ranidel de Ocampo or Marc Pingris. 
Add to that a proper training camp, several hard tune up games and a controversy-free training atmosphere and we should be in business. (Read how this team can win here)

Right Reason #2 – To train a team for the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers and the FIBA World Cup 2019. We have basically 4 years to train for the 2019 FIBA World Cup. We should make full use of those years, if we want to make back-to-back appearances on international basketball’s biggest stage.
What that means is making the sacrifice now for future gains.  That may be hard to swallow for the proud Filipino fan but the reality is that, among Gilas 3.0 players, only Terence Romeo (23 years old) and Matt Ganuelas-Rosser (25 years old) may still be in their prime when the 2019 World Cup comes around.  Calvin Abueva will be 31 by then, which will put him on the downhill side of his career, while Blatche and Castro will both be 33, almost definitely past their prime as well.
If we go with this reason, then starting next year, our team should be composed of players like Jordan Clarkson, Terence Romeo, Matt Ganuelas-Rosser, Troy Rosario, Kiefer Ravena, Kobe Paras, Kevin Ferrer, Rey Belo, Paolo Rivero, Arnold Van Opstal, Norbert Torres and maybe even a young naturalized player.
Pangilinan actually made reference to doing what China just did, which is craft a long-term plan for getting back on top of Asian basketball. Their plan (to be discussed in an upcoming article) bore fruit this year, as China emerged undefeated from the FIBA Asia Championships with the lone ticket to Rio. That is what Pangilinan hopes to replicate with a Gilas-in-training team.
As for other reasons, there will be many, but none which will actually be beneficial to Philippine basketball. A watered down Gilas squad sent only for pride’s sake or to avoid getting banned by FIBA will only provide more fodder for the already fiery duel between the SBP and the PBA, which might send Philippine basketball down the road to perdition yet again.
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