THE draw for the Fiba-Asia Men's Basketball Championship has put Gilas Pilipinas in line for an early showdown with rival Chinese-Taipei when the Manila showpiece gets underway from August 1-11.
Given the privilege as host to choose which among the four groups to join, Gilas coach Chot Reyes, in an overseas call from Lithuania to assistant Norman Black, opted to join Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan in Group A during the proceedings on Thursday at the Manila Hotel.
That paves the way for a group stage clash with Taipei at a time when emotions are still running high following the nation's decision to withdraw its invitation to Gilas for its title defense in the annual Jones Cup tournament, which Taipei is hosting in July.
The two countries are also embroiled in a diplomatic row over the killing of a Taiwanese fisherman by the Philippine Coast Guard in disputed waters.
Defending champion China drew what was considered as the 'Group of Death' as it was joined by perennial Asian title contender South Korea, former champion Iran, and a Southeast Asian side in Group C.
Japan, Qatar, and Hong Kong join Lebanon in Group B while Group D is made up of Kazakhstan, India, Bahrain and another Southeast Asian side to be determined at the end of the SEABA men’s championship scheduled on June 20-23 in Medan, Indonesia.
“Group D is probably the weakest in the group, but at the end of the day, you still face, China, South Korea and Iran on the other side,” Black told sports scribes at the end of the proceedings.
"So coach Chot feels we have a good chance of coming out of the second round at No. 1 or No. 2. At least that would be the goal."
Gilas rewarded the Southeast Asian sub-zone an extra qualifying seat in the tournament on the strength of its semifinal finish in last year’s Fiba Asia Cup in Tokyo.
Tweeting from Lithuania where Gilas is currently on a two-week training camp, Reyes said the decision to join Group A was reached by all the members of the team.
"Good draw. All d players/staff were involved in d process. Choice was unanimous," Reyes tweeted.
Gilas assistant coach Nash Racela said the moment they saw China, Iran and South Korea bunched together in one group, they already strongly considered joining Group A.
“Actually, nung nakita niya ito (list of teams in Group A and B), una itong napuno eh, sabi namin baka puwede either sa dalawa. Mahirap kasi sa Group B, halos kapantay lang natin 'yan lahat,” said Racela.