FRESH from a whirlwind scouting trip that took him to two Asian countries, Gilas Pilipinas assistant coach Norman Black has listed defending champion China, Iran, and South Korea as the three teams to beat in the Fiba-Asia Men’s Championship in two weeks' time.
The multi-titled coach travelled all the way to Guangzhou, China for the Fiba Stankovic Cup, primarily to take a closer look at the Chinese team under renowned former Greek national coach Panagiotis Giannakis.
He was no doubt impressed after seeing the hometown team finish a strong second behind world power Argentina.
The Talk 'N Text coach then flew straight to Chinese-Taipei and took down scouting notes on the sidelines in matches featuring powerhouse teams Iran, South Korea, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Taiwanese squad.
By all accounts, Black believes the Chinese, Koreans, and Iranians are going to be top contenders in the August 1-11 qualifier to the World Basketball Championship.
“China, Iran, and South Korea, to me, look like the best teams that I saw from these trips,” Black noted to Spin.ph on Friday.
Black refused to give further details on the scouting trip except to say Jordan, Lebanon, Japan, and even Chinese Taipei impressed him due to their strong showing in the Jones Cup.
“Jordan, Lebanon, Chinese-Taipei, and even Japan have pretty good showing. They were much improved, but other than that, coach Chot told me not to say anything much about my trip,” he added.
Aside from the Stankovic Cup, the Chinese also held Australia to a 2-2 standoff in their Sino-Australia Basketball Challenge last month as part of its buildup for the Fiba-Asia tournament.
Determined to maintain its grip of Asian basketball supremacy, China is scheduled to play against Macedonia and Montenegro in a tri-nation tournament in Kunshan from July 19-21 before proceeding to Manila.
Meantime, the Iranians showed formidable form behind their veteran national stars following an eight-game sweep of the Jones Cup.
NBA veteran big man Hamed Haddadi registered a double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds in leading the Iranians to a 72-67 victory over the Taiwanese over the weekend to cap their domination of the annual cagefest.
The two-time Fiba-Asia champions also got plenty of scoring support from veterans Samad Bahrami, Hamed Afagh, and Mahdi Kamrani.
The Koreans, on the other hand, are set to parade naturalized player Eric Sandrin (Korean name Lee Seung Jun) as national coach Yoo Jae Hak puts more premium on height to match up against China's 6-foot-10 big man Yi Jian Lian and the 7-foot-2 Haddadi of Iran.
South Korea finished second in the Jones Cup with a 6-2 (win-loss) record.