The 2017 FIBA Asia Cup is fast approaching. The tournament, which will be this August, will determine the FIBA rankings in the region. As all Asian teams are preparing for the competition, they will also have to contend with two countries joining the fray – Australia and New Zealand.
The addition of the two Oceana countries brings forth a new dimension into the Asian basketball scene.
“I think the addition of both Australia and New Zealand completely changes the landscape of the Asian region,” says Jimmy Alapag. The Mighty Mouse of course is no stranger to the international basketball scene having been a former national team member and a current assistant coach to Gilas Pilipinas.
“Just because for years, dating back to when I was playing, it was always Philippines, China, Korea, Iran, then Lebanon, but there were five or six teams that were normally in the conversation as to who would compete for the best team in Asia,” he continues. “Now you add teams like New Zealand and Australia, it just changes that landscape completely just because of both countries’ success in the international level, it brings a totally different type of competition from a size and skill factor.”
Alapag was candid and open talking about FIBA basketball in a press conference on Wednesday for the upcoming World Hoops Clinic happening this weekend. Among present were former Gilas coach Tab Baldwin, who is leading the coaches’ clinic, plus Lebanon national head coach Nenad Vucinic and New Zealand’s national head coach Pero Cameron. The star-studded cast of coaches will offer their vast amount of knowledge in international basketball to Filipino coaches in the clinic. On Wednesday, they also shared the impact of the inclusion of New Zealand and Australia in Asian hoops.
“They will definitely make the region more competitive,” Alapag says about the two nations. “The FIBA Asia Cup in August will give an opportunity for everyone to kinda see what the new Asian region will look like moving forward. I think Australia just released their line up for that upcoming tourney, and even without the NBA guys they will still be pretty formidable. I don’t know what New Zealand has but if it’s anything like the team that we saw in the OQT (Olympic Qualifying Tournament), it’ll be tough as well.”
Cameron, who was already with New Zealand last year when they participated in the OQT held in Manila, likewise sees tough competition for the Tall Blacks. However, he and his team view the new FIBA format as a way of growth and improvement overall.
“I think it’s really good competition ways. We get to play a lot more tough games before we have to beat Australia,” Cameron mentions. New Zealand and Australia have long been rivals in the Oceania region where the Boomers have dominated the Tall Blacks in the last 20 years. Cameron will look at the new FIBA qualifications as a way not just to finally beat Australia, but to improve New Zealand basketball in general.
“Here’s our opportunity, and I wouldn’t say it’s easier, but the competition is better. We get to play a lot more games and have the same opportunity to qualify for the big tournaments,” Cameron assesses. “These games will be the biggest tournaments that we’re being a part of ever.”
Gilas Pilipinas will face Iraq, China, and Qatar in the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup and will eventually be matched up with Australia in the 2019 World Cup Qualifiers along with Japan and Chinese Taipei.
“We’ll have our hands full, but we’re looking forward and I’m excited for our guys to compete against the best,” Alapag confidently says. “As a player, that’s all you can ask for: to get out there and compete and see what the region will look like in the years to come.”