Thursday, October 14, 2010

China, Korea biggest RP cage threats

With Lebanon and Kazakhstan sitting out the hostilities, the battle for the gold medal will narrow down to defending champion China, South Korea, Iran and possibly the Philippines in the much-awaited basketball event of the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou on Nov. 12-27.

The SBP’s immediate goal is for the Philippines, represented by Smart-Gilas, to bag its first Asiad medal in basketball since Tim Cone piloted the Centennial squad to the bronze in 1998. That means finishing in the top three of the 17-nation competition.

Ultimately, the goal is for the Philippines to top the FIBA-Asia Championships, tentatively in Beirut, next year, and qualify for the London Olympics in 2012.

“China and South Korea will be the biggest threats to us,” said SBP executive director Noli Eala yesterday. “We’re lucky Lebanon pulled out and our ‘kontrapelo’ Kazakhstan is not joining. All signs point to a good tournament for the Philippines. Hopefully, Marcus Douthit’s papers will be ready.”

Douthit failed to obtain his naturalization when Malacañang deferred signing into law the Congress bill the other day. President Aquino’s signature would’ve exempted the mandatory three-day waiting period between the second and third reading of the bill in the Senate. Now, the bill will be ratified on Nov. 8 at the earliest when the Senate is reassembled with the President expected to sign it into law that same day. If Douthit secures his Philippine passport from the Department of Foreign Affairs the next day, he could fly to China on Nov. 10 in time to apply for accreditation with the Asian Games Organizing Committee and make the managers’ meeting deadline for lineup changes on Nov. 11.

“We’ll give it a shot,” said Eala. “It’s still mathematically possible for Marcus to make the cut-off but the chances are slim. An injury will also have to happen for Marcus to be named to the roster.”

Eala said Fil-Ams Chris Lutz and Sol Mercado received their accreditation for the Asian Games the other day. Douthit remains the only missing ingredient in coach Rajko Toroman’s brew.

“China is the host country and South Korea always gives more importance to the Asian Games – the two reasons why they’ll be top favorites,” said Eala. “China lost to a Brazilian pro team, Araldite/Univille, 99-93, in overtime recently without Zhu Fangyu and Sun Yue. Wang Zhizhi played only eight minutes. Liu Wei and Wang Shipeng also didn’t play. Zhu, Sun, Wang Zhizhi, Liu and Wang Shipeng will likely be China’s starters in the Asian Games so the game was meant to test the bench.” Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian will skip the competitions due to their NBA commitments.

Eala said the most dangerous team is South Korea. “They’re training hard for the Asian Games and they’ve got five games lined up against European teams,” he went on. “They had a very secretive training in the US. They first recruited NBA Hall of Fame coach Lenny Wilkens to prepare the team. Then they changed head coach Hur Jae with Yoo Jae-hak, head coach of the reigning Korean league champion Ulsan Mobis. They also opened their doors for more Korean-foreign players to join the national team. Sure to be part of the team is Lee Seung Jun, formerly known as Eric Sandrin. NBA veteran Ha Seung-jin started training with the national team bound in Taeneung, northern Seoul, last Tuesday and will work out with them until Oct. 27. A concern is we haven’t seen or played the Koreans at all.”

Eala said Islamic Republic of Iran Basketball Federation president Mahmoud Mashhoun will go to the US to negotiate directly for Hamed Haddadi’s temporary release from the Memphis Grizzlies to play in Guangzhou. He will also request Rice University to allow Arsalam Kazem to see action in the Asiad.

Star forward Samad Nikkhah is considering possible surgery in France,” said Eala. “Head coach Veselin Matic is not really counting on Samad, Haddadi and Arsalan for the Asian Games because even if they join just a few days before the start, it doesn’t give the team much of an advantage. Big center 7-4 Jaber Rouzbahani is really in great shape after four months of individual training. He has become more athletic, his weight is 140 kilograms now. Top point guard Mahdi Kamrani has several small injuries but his main problem is his knee and ankle. He wants to play but doctors advise at least two months of rest.”

The Philippines opens its campaign in the Asian Games with a knockout game against Saudi Arabia. “The worst thing that can happen is a loss to Saudi,” said Eala. “We can’t afford to take chances. We have to scout Saudi and make sure there are no surprises when we play them.”

If the Philippines beats Saudi Arabia, it will move on to the second round and play a round-robin with Iran, Chinese-Taipei, Qatar, Japan and the winner of the Afghanistan-India knockout game in Group F. The top four finishers in Group F will advance to the knockout eight-team quarterfinals where the survivors advance to the knockout four-team semifinals.

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