All out for SEABA title
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - May 9, 2017 - 12:00am

There’s a saying in basketball that “the ball is round,” meaning anything can happen in a game. At the FIBA Asia Championships in Changsha two years ago, the Philippines was upset by Palestine, 75-73, in a contest that Gilas was supposed to win by a mile. Nobody expected the Soviet Union to beat the US, 51-50, for the gold medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics even as the win was highly controversial. That snapped the American streak of seven Olympic gold medals and a 63-0 record.

So Gilas coach Chot Reyes is right in not taking any chances at the SEABA Championships here on May 12-18. If some fans think bringing in Andray Blatche to suit up for Gilas in SEABA is an overkill, Reyes disagrees. Too much is at stake in the SEABA tournament that a gamble may not be worth the risk. Only the SEABA champion gets to represent the Southeast Asian sub-zone at the FIBA Asia Cup in Beirut on Aug. 10-20 and only the 16 qualifiers for the FIBA Asia Cup are entitled to play in the Asia/Oceania qualifiers that will determine seven teams from the region to compete at the FIBA World Cup in China in 2019.

If the Philippines fails to win the SEABA title, its hopes to play in the next World Cup are obliterated forever. Previously, FIBA declared that the top 14 finishers of 16 teams in the FIBA Asia Cup will advance to the Asia/Oceania qualifiers and reserved the right to add two wildcards. But FIBA recently announced that there will be no wildcards for the Asia/Oceania qualifiers and the 16 teams in Beirut will automatically figure in the six home-and-away windows to start in November.

* * *

Even if the Philippines wins the SEABA title handily, it wouldn’t be an exercise of exaggeration because up ahead is the FIBA Asia Cup and the experience of playing together in a tournament will go a long way in preparing for the Asia/Oceania qualifiers. Curiously, the results of the FIBA Asia Cup won’t impact on the pairings or groupings of the Asia/Oceania qualifiers. In effect, the FIBA Asia Cup is like a yardstick or a training tournament for the coming Asia/Oceania qualifiers. It has no bearing on the Asia/Oceania qualifiers whatsoever. What’s important is qualifying for the FIBA Asia Cup and that’s what Gilas has in mind in going all out for the SEABA crown.

So far, only eight teams are guaranteed slots for the FIBA Asia Cup – Lebanon as host and West Asia champion, Iran as West Asia No. 2, Jordan as West Asia No. 3, Iraq as West Asia No. 4 and Syria as West Asia No. 5, Qatar as Gulf champion and Australia and New Zealand as wildcards. Five slots are reserved for East Asia with six teams (China, Chinese-Taipei, South Korea, Macau, Hong Kong and host Japan) vying for the tickets in their sub-zone eliminations on June 3-7. One slot each is set aside for Southeast Asia, Central Asia and South Asia. 

Last Sunday, FIBA held the draw for the 2019 World Cup global qualifiers and identified eight countries which will presumably make it to the FIBA Asia Cup although their entry is still to be formalized – the Philippines for Southeast Asia, Kazakhstan for Central Asia, India for South Asia and China, South Korea, Japan, Chinese-Taipei and Hong Kong for East Asia. If any of those countries are upset on the way to Beirut, their spot will be taken over by the teams that beat them.

* * *

For the Philippines, the journey to Beirut begins with a game against Myanmar on May 12. Then, Gilas plays Singapore on May 13, Malaysia on May 14, Thailand on May 16, Vietnam on May 17 and Indonesia on May 18.

Indonesia looms as the biggest threat to the Philippines’ bid for the SEABA title and the ticket to Beirut. At the 2015 Southeast Asian Games, Indonesia lost a close 72-64 decision to the Philippines in the gold medal game. Six players from the runner-up squad are back for Indonesia in SEABA – 5-10 Mario Wuysang, 6-3 Sandy Kurniawan, 5-8 Andakara Dhyaksa, 6-3 Ponsianus Indrawan, 6-6 Christian Renaldo Sitepu and 6-2 Arki Dikania Wisnu. In the SEA Games final, Kurniawan scored 16 points while Sitepu had 11 and Wisnu 10 points with five rebounds. Wuysang picked up five assists.

Only Troy Rosario and Jio Jalalon were held over for SEABA from the SEA Games. Rosario compiled 11 points and five boards in the SEA Games final. It was Indonesia’s third silver medal in the SEA Games. In SEABA, Indonesia was second in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011. The Philippines has won seven of the last nine SEABA titles, missing out in 2005 and 2013 because Gilas didn’t participate.

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