MANILA, Philippines - Nothing comes easy for Smart Gilas as the Philippine national basketball team takes another step towards its goal of qualifying for the FIBA World Cup in Spain in 2014. If the Jones Cup is a quiz, the coming FIBA Asia Cup is the big test and next year’s FIBA Asia Championships the final exam.
Gilas passed the Jones Cup quiz with flying colors in Taipei recently, in the process waylaying mighty Iran and mightier US. Now, Gilas advances to the next level and wages war in the fourth FIBA Asia Cup, formerly known as the Stankovic Cup, on Sept. 14-26 in Tokyo. The top three finishers of the FIBA Asia Cup automatically qualify for the FIBA Asia Championships which Manila is bidding to host. In turn, the top three placers of the FIBA Asia Championships gain outright entry as representatives of the Asia Zone in the FIBA World Cup in Spain.
The FIBA Asia Cup format is different from what Gilas went through in the Jones Cup. Coach Chot Reyes said yesterday he’s treating the FIBA Asia Cup primarily as a learning experience but it doesn’t mean Gilas won’t leave it all on the floor.
“We’re coming in with the same mind-set as in the Jones Cup,” said Reyes. “This is a continuation of our learning process. We’re playing new teams in Tokyo – also, old teams with different players. Opposition will be stiffer because now, we’re not able to sneak in and surprise anyone. With what we did in the Jones Cup, other teams now know who L. A. (Tenorio) and Jeff (Chan) are. They’ll be prepared to defend them.”
Reyes said Korea and Jordan aren’t playing in Tokyo but the usual suspects like Iran, China, Qatar and Lebanon are in the fray. “In the Jones Cup, there were nine teams and we played a single round-robin without playoffs,” explained Reyes. “The team with the best record at the end of the single round-robin was declared the champion. But in Tokyo, there will be 10 teams split into two groups of five. A team plays groupmates once in the eliminations then the top four move to the knockout crossover quarterfinals. Winners go to the semifinals and survivors play for the title. That’s how it’s done in the FIBA-Asia and World Championships. It’s different in the Jones Cup which isn’t conducted by FIBA. That’s why in the Jones Cup, we were allowed a 14-man lineup to play 12 in a game while in the FIBA Asia Cup, we’re limited to a 12-man roster.”
In Tokyo, the Philippines is bracketed with China, Lebanon, Uzbekistan and Macau. The other group consists of Iran, Chinese-Taipei, Qatar, India and host Japan. Without a single rest day, Gilas will play China, Lebanon, Uzbekistan and Macau in succession. In contrast, China will take a rest on the second day of competition while Lebanon takes on Gilas the day after a lightweight assignment against Macau.
For the FIBA Asia Cup, Reyes is bringing 11 of the 14 players in the Jones Cup lineup – Marcus Douthit, Gary David, Chan, Tenorio, Larry Fonacier, Ranidel de Ocampo, Gabe Norwood, Enrico Villanueva, Sonny Thoss, Jay-R Reyes and Matt Ganuelas-Rosser. Left out from the Taipei roster were Sol Mercado, Mac Baracael and Garvo Lanete. Added to the Tokyo cast was Jared Dillinger.
Mercado was struck out because of a new FIBA Asia eligibility ruling that a player not born in the country he is representing must have chosen his citizenship before 16 if he has blood lineage. Reyes said the rule is not retroactive, meaning it will not apply to players who were previously allowed to represent a country by FIBA Asia.
“Because the rule is not retroactive, guys like Gabe and Sonny are good to go,” said Reyes. “Unfortunately, Sol never played for us in a FIBA tournament. He played for Gilas in the 2010 Asian Games but that’s not considered a FIBA competition. Matt isn’t a problem because he was born in the Philippines. In the last FIBA Asia Championships, Marcio (Lassiter) and Chris (Lutz) were allowed to play on condition it wouldn’t be considered a precedent, meaning their future eligibility would be reevaluated under the new rule. I think the law of citizenship in a particular country must be recognized by FIBA Asia. This new rule came about as a reaction to a lot of Africans playing for different Asian countries not as naturalized citizens but as locals claiming blood lineage. It’s collateral damage to the Philippines.”