A couple of hours before the face-off between the Philippines and world No. 5 France at the start of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament on July 5 at the Mall of Asia Arena, inaugural action will fire off when No. 8 Turkey and No. 26 Canada draw the curtains in the OQT that will decide which of six teams gets passage to Rio de Janeiro in August.
Notwithstanding the enormity of the task at hand, with France to be led by NBA superstar Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs, it should not come as a surprise if Gilas Pilipinas assistant coaches, if not head mentor Tab Baldwin himself, spend two quarters scouting the Turks and Canadians.
The Nationals’ bid to book a ticket to the Olympic Games will depend not only on beating the French but also on downing either Turkey or Canada – or both.
Gilas Pilipinas, ranked No. 28 in the world, is bracketed with France and New Zealand in Group B of the Manila OQT and will have to get past one of them, at least, to gain more than a 50 percent chance of advancing to the crossover semifinals.
Beating both will set up the Philippines for a semis clash with the No. 2 team from Group A – comprised of Turkey, Canada and Senegal, the team Gilas edged in overtime in the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Seville, Spain two years ago.
Showing up in the semis with a 1-1 slate, on the other hand, will range Baldwin’s Boys with, most likely, the 2-0 team from Group A.
That, in all probability, will be Turkey.
And looming tall and imposing over that highly-regarded EuroBasket powerhouse is New Orleans Pelicans center Omer Asik, a 7-0 rim protector who was sixth in shot blocks in the 2014 World Cup where Turkey nipped Australia, 65-64, in the Round of 16 before getting upended by Lithuania, 73-61, in the quarterfinals.
Asik averaged 9.9ppg and 8.4rpg in Bilbao and Barcelona.
At eighth overall in the FIBA rankings, only the United States, Spain, Lithuania, Argentina, France, Serbia and Russia stand above the Turks, making their game against the Canadians a must-see for former national coaches like Norman Black and Jong Uichico, both on Baldwin’s staff.
Turk coach Ergin Ataman has submitted a 20-man roster that included Asik, Ender Arsian, Dogus Balbay, Birkan Batuk, Metecan Birsen, Semih Erden, Tolga Gecim, Samet Geyik, Sinan Guler, Baris Hersek, Furkan Korkmaz, Huseyin Goksenin Koksal, Melih Mahmutoglu, Ali Muhammed Can Maxim Mutaf, Cedi Osman, Oguz Savas, Kenan Sipahi, Metin Turen and Mehmet Yagmur.
If it is any consolation, Turkey will be without Orlando Magic forward Ersan Ilyasova, who is focusing on renewing his NBA contract, and center Furkan Aldemir, sidelined by a groin injury.
Considered shoo-ins are playmakers Guler and Arslan, who will test the court-generalship of Jayson Castro, LA Tenorio and Ray-Ray Parks, frontliners Savas and Erden, set to confront Andray Blatche and June Mar Fajardo, and emerging stars Osman and Korkmaz.
Broad-shouldered forward Erden will be Turkey’s No. 2 offensive force after Asik and is an integral member of the team’s vaunted Twelve Giant Men, who terrorized Europe’s biggest competition last year.
Though still two games away from a projected collision with Turkey come opening day, Gilas Pilipinas nevertheless can benefit from early surveillance and an immediate plan of action, what with the Nationals hampered by a relatively lower ceiling and a less heftier bulk.