THE first step in the bid of Gilas Pilipinas to qualify for next year’s World Basketball Championship takes place on Thursday when the 16-team draw for the groupings of the Fiba-Asia Men’s Championship is held at the Centennial Hall of the Manila Hotel.
As host, the Philippines is expected to make full use of its privilege of picking 13th in the draw, which means the first 12 slots will already be filled by the time Gilas chooses the best group to join.
“Ganun na nga `yung mangyayari (picking 13th). Makikita natin yung unang labing-dalawa. That’s the advantage we have being the host country,” Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas executive director Sonny Barrios told Spin.ph.
FIBA Asia secretary-general Hagop Khajirian of Lebanon, along with Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) president Manny V. Pangilinan, will preside over the proceedings starting at 1:30 p.m.
Also expected to be present in the affair are SBP chairman Oscar Moreno, vice-chairman Ricky Vargas, and Barrios.
The drawing of lots played crucial roles in previous Philippine team campaigns in the Fiba-Asia.
In 2007, the Filipinos found themselves bracketed in what coach Chot Reyes labeled as the `Group of Death’ after ending up in the company of Jordan, China, and Iran. The team eventually finished in ninth place.
Two years ago, Serbian mentor Rajko Toroma took advantage of the luck in the draw during the eliminations, a springboard that later propelled Gilas to a semifinal stint and later on, a fourth-place finish – its highest since the 1987 Fiba-Asia meet.
Hagop will pick from a box containing four small balls representing the four groups, and from another with 15 balls representing the countries outside of the host.
Barrios said Gilas Pilipinas coach Reyes will be calling from Lithuania – where the nationals are currently holding a two-week training camp - to relay his choice once the 12 Asian teams have been distributed to their respective groups.
But should faulty communication come to play, deputies Ryan Gregorio, Norman Black, and Nash Racela will be on a standby to announce the choice of the national squad.
The SBP executive director said representatives from Asia’s six zone will be equally distributed in four groups led by defending champion China, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, and Chinese-Taipei from East Asia.
Central Asia will have Kazakhstan, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, Iran, Lebanon, and Jordan from West Asia, the Philippines and two more countries from Southeast Asia and another nation from South Asia.
The Philippines is bidding to finish at least among the top three in this year’s Fiba-Asia tournament to earn a berth in the Fiba-World Championships in Spain.