CHANGSHA, China – Regardless of what happens from here on, Gilas Pilipinas is already guaranteed a place in the qualifying tournament for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
All four semifinalists in the ongoing Fiba Asia Championship - defending champion Iran, host China, Gilas and dark horse Japan - have earned tickets to one of three Fiba qualifying tournaments set from July 4 to 10 in three different cities around the world.
Of course, the winner can get an outright spot in the Rio Games, joining powerhouse the United States and qualifiers from Africa, Europe, Fiba Americas and Oceania. The Americans, the defending Olympic gold medallists, earned an outright spot in Rio after ruling the 2014 Fiba World Cup in Spain.
Aside from the US, already assured of Olympic berths are AfroBasket champion Nigeria, Fiba Americas champion Venezuela and runner-up Argentina, EuroBasket champion Spain and runner-up Lithuania, host Brazil, and Australia who beat New Zealand for the lone Oceania berth in a best-of-three series.
Gilas needs to beat Japan in a semifinal late Friday and the winner of the Iran-China game in Saturday's final to make it back to the Olympics for the first time since 1972 in Munich, where a Philippine team led by the late Ciso Bernardo, Bogs Adornado and Jimmy Mariano placed 13th.
If it falls short, the Philippines will end up in a world qualifying tournament to be staged next year where three more tickets to Rio will be at stake.
Under the new format approved by the Fiba Central Committee last August, 18 teams will be divided into three groups of six for three separate qualifiers to be staged just weeks before the August 5-21 basketball tournament in Rio de Janeiro.
Fifteen teams from around the world have earned places in the qualifiers. Aside from the three from Asia, also qualified are European teams France, Serbia, Greece, Italy and Czech Republic, Africa's Angola, Tunesia and Senegal, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico from Fiba Americas and New Zealand from Oceania.
Three more will be added to the field, likely the hosts of the three qualifiers which will be awarded by Fiba by November.
Groupings will be determined at a later date, although it is likely that teams from Asia, Europe, Americas and Africa will be spread out and well represented in each of the three qualifiers.
In such a scenario, Gilas, if ever, will have to go through tough teams from Europe, Africa and the Americas to catch the last bus to Rio.
However, the current July 4-10 schedule should pose a concern for Gilas if it is not changed since it runs smack to the season not only of the PBA but also the Chinese Basketball Association, where naturalized player Andray Blatche plays.