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Looking at our Olympic Qualifying foes
by rick olivares
There’s exhilaration about hosting the Olympic Qualifiers, but we cannot be too overly ecstatic here because the Philippines has tough draws in what is the Group of Death.
Of the five other countries making the trip to Manila for the July 4-10 qualifying matches, only one is ranked lower than the Philippines. Everyone else is higher.
France is fifth in the world followed by Turkey at eighth, New Zealand is at 21st, and Canada is at 26th while Senegal brings up the rear at 31. The Philippines finished 28th in the world after the October 2015 Continental Championships.
There will be a single round robin for each group after which the top two figure in a semi-finals knockout affair with the winners going to the finals. The winner will advance to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Let’s start with the teams bracketed with Team Philippines in Group B -- France and New Zealand.
Coach: Vince Collet. A former player who has been the team’s head coach since 2009. His best achievement is a gold medal finish in Eurobasket 2013.
Outlook: Les Bleus will be the toughest opponent as they have battle tested veterans and a bevy of prime NBA players.
They will be led by the great Tony Parker who even in the downside of a bemedalled career is still a handful. There’s Nicolas Batum, a small forward with the Charlotte Hornets. Forward/center Joffrey Lauvergne who wears the jersey of the Denver Nuggets. Shooting guard Evan Fournier is with the Orlando Magic. Boris Diaw, a power forward first came to prominence with Mike D’Antoni’s Phoenix Suns before joining the San Antonio Spurs. And lastly, seven-foot center Rudy Gobert who patrols the lane for the Utah Jazz.
if the Chicago Bulls’ Joakim Noah suits up he’ll be another problem because of his size, rebounding, defense, and game smarts.
Batum, Fournier, Diaw, Parker, Noah, and Gobert contribute heavily to their respective NBA squads’ fortunes.
Team profile: Every one stands over six feet tall. They’ve got a stratospheric front line that can score inside the paint as well as protect it.
Strengths: Experience, talent, and depth.
Weakness: Point guard position. Outside Tony Parker, the French do not have another all-world point guard. There’s Nando De Colo, one of their stars during Eurobasket 2015. But he isn’t Parker by any longshot. Others who could vie for the court general slot include Antoine Diot, Thomas Heurtel, and Leo Westermann who was the U20 European championships’ Most Valuable Player.
Coach: Paul Henare, a former player who also played in Europe and came up as an assistant before being named head coach. So he knows what this is all about.
Outlook: The Tall Blacks and Gilas are both familiar with one another having played each other during preparations for the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships while Philippine head coach Tab Baldwin used to handle them. In that match up, the Philippines lost the scrimmage by one-point albeit with a controversial call helping decide the outcome. That aside, it was a scrimmage. Scrimmages are different from matches with something on the line. Nevertheless, the Philippines knows they can play them. And with the homecourt advantage, you can bet the Philippines will exploit that to the hilt.
Team profile: New Zealand only have two players suiting up outside Oceania in forward/center Isaac Fotu (CAI Zaragoza in Spain) and Robert Loe who plays center for Limburg United in Belgium. It also remains to be seen if youngseven-footer Sam Timmins who is slated to play for the Washington Huskies next season in US NCAA basketball will suit up.
Based on their current line-up, they only have two veterans back from the 2010 FIBA World Championships campaign in forward and team captain Mika Vukona and small forward Thomas Abercrombie. Other fixtures on the team for the past few years include guard Corey Webster and swingman Reuben Te Rangi.
Sans any name players (read: NBA or Eurobasket pedigree) and the previous scrimmage result, the Tall Blacks cannot be underestimated.
Weakness: Lack of international experience and a relatively young roster.
Over in Group A, are other top-ranked teams Turkey, Senegal, and Canada.
Coach: Ergin Ataman who has a 12-year professional playing career and an even longer coaching career as he enters his second decade. Ataman is in his second year as head coach of "12 Dev Adam" or “12 Giant Men” as the Turks are nicknamed.
Outlook: 12 Dev Adam have yet to reach their glory years when they won a pair of silver medals in the 2001 Eurobasket and the 2010 FIBA World Championships. That latter team had four NBA veterans who had made names for themselves in Hedo Turkoglu, Omer Asik, Ersan Ilyasova, and Semih Erden.
The current squad has a few veterans from that silver medal finish — power forward Ilyasova, center Erden, shooting guard Siñan Guler, forward Baris Hersek, and center Oguz Savas. Ilyasova is still in the NBA with the Detroit Pistons while another center, Furkan Aldemir is with the Philadelphia 76ers. Asik though might be available for the qualifiers giving the Turks more inside muscle.
Their point guard is naturalized guard Bobby Dixon who played for US Division 1 side, Troy University but uses the name Ali Muhammed when playing for the Turkish national team. Dixon is currently playing for Fenerbahce in the Turkish league. Their make up is somewhat similar to Iran with loads of tall players however minus talented point guards.
Strength: 12 Dev Adam have the height and brawn to win the inside game. They can also snipe from the outside. Their weakness though is at the point guard position. In a halfcourt match up they’re tough, but in a running game or even if pressed they could have trouble.
Weakness: Fast-paced game. Tony Parker and Les Bleus exposed them with an uptempo blitz that left the Turks in the dust 76-53.
Coach: Jay Triano who is best known for leading Team Canada to the 1983 World University Games gold medal by defeating a Charles Barkley and Karl Malone-led US team in the semifinals and a Drazen Petrovic-led Yugoslavia squad in the finals. He is a former Toronto Raptors coach and is now an assistant for the Portland Trailblazers. This is his second stint on the Canadian national squad.
Outlook: You cannot take this team for granted as they are another team loaded with NBA players such as Anthony Bennett and Corey Joseph (Raptors), Andrew Nicholson (Orlando Magic), Kelly Olynuk (Boston Celtics), Dwight Powell (Dallas Mavericks), Tyler Ennis (Milwaukee Bucks), Nik Stauskas (Philadelphia 76ers), Robert Sacre (Los Angeles Lakers), Trey Lyles (Utah Jazz), Tristan Thompson (Cleveland Cavaliers), and Andrew Wiggins (Minnesota Timberwolves). No doubt, they’ll be led by Wiggins, Thompson, Joseph, Ennis, and Stauskas. They can play inside. They can shoot and are athletic. Plsu, they’ve got size inside.
Strength: They are young and athletic. And have a deep rotation.
Weakness: Inexperience. But this is relative. Canada has started moving up in the basketball standings and are producing more and more quality players.
Coach: Cheikh Sarr
Outlook: Long shot to advance. They’ve got the height and athleticism but in terms of basketball jones or smarts, not there… yet. Most of the team plays in Europe but not for any top sides.
The Philippines knows them well having squeaked past them in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, 81-79. They are led by their one NBA player in Gorgui Dieng who plays center for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Strength: They have the height. Well, every one else is taller than the Philippines. Experience-wise, the Lions, as they are nicknamed, are soaking it up. In a few years, they’ll be very good. Senegal is a football country but basketball isn’t far behind. They can only get better at the sport.
Weakness: If you’ve seen Senegal play, while they have basketball bodies because of their tallness but aren’t built to spin around defenders or even float in for reverse layups. That comes with growing up in the game. I pretty much liken them to India. Basketball jones as I mentioned earlier. Yet in spite of their “deficiency,” they nearly pipped us. Now how they respond to 25,000 screaming Filipinos is anyone’s guess.