AS host of the coming qualifying tournament for next year’s World Basketball Championship, the Philippines has been challenged by Fiba-Asia secretary-general Hagop Khajirian to take advantage of this rare opportunity by forming the best national team possible.
Khajirian believes staging the Fiba-Asia Men’s Basketball Championship for the first time in 40 years gives the Filipinos the best possible shot at winning the title last won by the fabled Northern Consolidated Corp. squad of legendary coach Ron Jacobs in 1986.
“It doesn’t come every year. Get the best of the best,” stressed Khajirian during the press briefing held at the Mall of Asia Arena on Monday following the ocular inspection he did on the venue for the television broadcast of the August 1-11 tournament.
“The Philippines playing in the semifinals (of FIBA-Asia)... Why not? Champion in FIBA-Asia… Why not? But it will come as a result of hard work, and not by luck. There’s no luck in winning the championship,” he added.
The Fiba-Asia official was joined in the presidential table by Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) executive director Sonny Barrios, former Fiba-Asia secretary general Moying Martelino, and Solar Sports bigwigs Wilson Tieng and Peter Chanliong.
Khajirian arrived in the country on Saturday and also left Monday shortly after the press conference.
But he went away convinced the playing facilities in the country are up to the standards of the International Basketball Federation (Fiba).
“The international standard is quite high. But we’re looking forward to exceeding the standard set by Fiba-Asia,” vowed Barrios.
Lebanon was supposed to be the host of the FIBA-Asia Championship, but the ongoing conflict it had with neighboring country Syria prompted organizers to award the hosting rights to the Philippines.
“We don’t want to put (the players) at risk at the last minute. So from August last year we set a deadline until December to see if everything is in line with our requirements,” he said.
“Once it was not, we thought of moving the event and our next move was to make sure to move it to the country which got the second most votes during the executive board meeting.”
Asked where he ranks the Philippines in Asia right now, the cage official of Lebanese descent placed the country at fifth behind powerhouse team China, Korea, two-time champion Iran, and Lebanon.
The original Smart Gilas-Pilipinas under coach Rajko Toroman reached the semifinals of the last Fiba-Asia meet two years ago in Wuhan, China, but lost to Jordan in the battle for a berth in the finals.
The 16 best teams in the region coming from five different subzones will be competing for the three slots up for grabs for Asia to the 2014 FIBA-World Basketball Championship set in Spain.
Both the host and Fiba-Asia Cup champion Iran are already assured of slots in the tournament, leaving 14 other slots available which Hagop hopes to complete by May 25.
The drawing of lots will be held in Manila on June 6.
“I’m very satisfied with the work they’ve (SBP) done so far, they have an excellent program,” said Khajirian. “The facilities are good, and we look for full-house games, especially those games involving the Philippine team.”