GILAS PILIPINAS TO PLAY FRANCE ON FIRST DAY OF OLYMPIC QUALIFIER

MANILA — Gilas coach Tab Baldwin got his wish when powerhouse Greece wasn’t drawn to join the Philippines in the Olympic qualifier at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena in July but it’s no consolation that the host country will open the tournament against World No. 5 France.

The Philippines is bracketed with France and New Zealand in Group B while Turkey, Senegal and Canada are in Group A. Teams in the same group play each other once in the preliminaries. Gilas plays France on July 5 and New Zealand on July 6.

The top two finishers in each group advance to the knockout semifinals on July 9 with the survivors to vie for a ticket to Rio on July 10.

FIBA sport and competitions director Predrag Bogosavljev conducted the modified draw at the House of Basketball in this Swiss city of Mies near Geneva last Tuesday night (Wednesday morning, Manila). He was assisted by NBA veterans Radoslav Nesterovic of Slovenia and Jorge Garbajosa of Spain in the men’s draw. Bogosavljev also supervised the draw for women.

The Philippines, Serbia and Italy were picked by the FIBA Executive Committee to host the three Olympic qualifiers from a short list of six bidders. The minimum bid was 1.8 million Euros. It was not disclosed how much the Philippines bid for the hosting rights. Turkey reportedly had the highest bid but FIBA awarded the rights to Manila, Belgrade and Turin instead based on other considerations.

Bogosavljev explained that the modified draw considered geographical and quality factors. He came up with six “pots” of three countries each to guarantee that teams in a “pot” wouldn’t be in the same tournament. The first pot consisted of France, Serbia and Greece. The second was comprised of Italy, Czech Republic and Canada. The third was made up of the Philippines, Iran and Japan. The fourth had Angola, Tunisia and Senegal. The fifth listed Latvia, Croatia and Turkey. The sixth took in Mexico, Puerto Rico and New Zealand.

On stage, Bogosavljev picked the groups for each tournament from three bowls of miniature Molten balls that was split open to reveal a paper identifying A or B. Nesterovic chose countries from six bowls while Garbajosa selected the number of each team in a group from six bowls.

Bogosavljev said the Manila tournament will start and finish a day later than the Belgrade and Turin competitions. After the gold medal game in Manila, FIBA will call a press conference and conduct the final Rio Olympics draw. An initial draw will be held on March 11 at the House of Basketball with three slots vacant. The slots will be filled by the winners of the three Olympic qualifiers.

French Basketball Federation director general Yann Barbitch said NBA veterans Boris Diaw of San Antonio and Nicolas Batum of Charlotte may not be able to play in Manila because they will be renegotiating their professional contracts. He said Tony Parker will fly over if healthy and fit. France will likely bring in other NBA veterans Evan Fournier of Orlando, Rudy Gobert of Utah and Joffrey Lauvergne of Denver. Barbitch said the French delegation of 30 will include at least 10 from media.

Canadian Basketball Federation president Michele O’Keefe said the national team will play tune-up games in Europe before heading to Manila. Her problem is because of the team’s dependence on NBA players, the roster may not be finalized until two weeks before the tournament. Among Canada’s NBA players are 7-0 Kelly Olynyk of Boston, 7-0 Robert Sacre of the Los Angeles Lakers, 6-8 Andrew Wiggins of Minnesota and 6-3 Cory Joseph of Toronto.

Turkish Basketball Federation president Harun Erdenay said he hopes to be in Manila with the national team a week before the competition begins. Accompanying the team will be former NBA player Hedo Turkoglu. Turkey’s key players include 7-0 Omer Asik of New Orleans, 6-11 Enes Kanter of Oklahoma City, 6-10 Ersan Ilyasova of Detroit, 6-9 Furkan Aldemir of Philadelphia.

Bogosavljev will arrive in Manila with FIBA Asia secretary-general Hagop Khajirian on Feb. 28 for a two-day inspection visit. The FIBA officials will check out the MOA Arena map to determine conformity with the terms of the Host Nations Agreement, visit the hotels suggested for the teams, VIPs, referees, FIBA working staff and media, review local transportation arrangements, look over game schedules and set the stage for Swiss Timing to coordinate with a local provider to produce statistics, TV graphics and an accreditation system. PNA/northboundasia.com