THE Philippines’ battlecry when it guns for the coveted title in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship which begins today in Hunan, China should be plain and simple: It’s Rio Olympics or nothing!
This FIBA Asia’s centerpiece event, which runs until October 3, will have the winner booking an automatic berth to the prestigious Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil next year.
Carrying the colours of Gilas Pilipinas, this national team is the latest assembly of stars from the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) and reinforced by nine-year National Basketball Association (NBA) veteran Andray Blatche chasing the elusive Asian crown the country has never won for nearly three decades now.
The Filipinos, coming off a two-month training, are determined and hopeful of their chances for a crack at the title in this tournament to end the country’s long absence in the Olympic basketball competition.
Yet again, they are carrying the basketball-crazy nation’s hopes for a return to the Olympics which the country last achieved in 1972 in Munich, Germany.
For the record, the Philippines has never won the Asian championship since 1986 in Malaysia, but hopes are high the country can end the long wait for a return to the Asian throne and a journey back to the quadrennial games with this latest PBA select reinforced by naturalized player Blatche.
Aside from Blatche, Asi Taulava, Sonny Thoss, Marc Pingris, Gabe Norwood, Calvin Abueva, JC Intal, Dondon Hontiveros, Terrence Romeo, Jayson Castro and Matt Ganuelas-Rosser complete the cast.
Likewise, the country’s goal is to improve on its second-place finish in the FIBA Asia Championship in Manila in 2013 and once again compete with the world’s best in a follow-up to its stint in the World Cup in Sevilla, Spain last year.
In 2013, the Philippines was beaten by Iran in the finals.
This time, the Philippines can face Iran once or twice in Changsha, in the round after the group stages, and if both teams make it all the way during the gold-medal match.
Olympic qualifying format calls for each team to play the teams in its group once with the top three advancing to join the other top three squads in another group.
In the Philippines’ case, it is expected to dominate Group B against Palestine, Kuwait and Hong Kong, regarded as lightweight teams being outside the Top 10 in FIBA Asia ranking in the lead-up to the regional Olympic qualifier.
The Filipinos can then easily join the three qualifiers coming from Group A, where Iran belongs together with Japan, Malaysia and India.
Teams in the merged group will play each other once, with the top four to advance to the knockout stages. Expected to advance from Group A are the Iranians, Japan and India.
It’s important for the Philippines to make the knockout stages with the highest rank possible so it could draw a relatively light assignment.
Groups C and D would likely have China, Chinese Taipei, Qatar, South Korea, Kazakhstan and Lebanon advancing.
As expected, China will be the team to beat with the homecourt advantage to also play a major role in boosting the confidence of the hosts who have won 15 of the last 20 stagings of the regional tournament since 1975.
In fact, the Philippines’ coach Tab Baldwin himself is convinced that the Filipinos’ real battle for the medal-round games will most probably be against Iran and China.
But as always, the Filipinos’ goal is to get a shot at the gold medal. They have no other option but to win it all. Definitely, it’s Rio or nothing.