The 27th FIBA-Asia tournament draw: Philippines in Group A, Group C is “Group of Death”

MANILA HOTEL, Manila—The Philippines, represented in the podium by coaches Norman Black and Nash Racela, selected to be part of Group A; tactically avoiding the dreaded “Group of Death” in the draw for the groupings of the upcoming 27th FIBA Asia tournament here.

FIBA Asia Secretary General Hagop Khajirian (4th from left) with SBP officials and 1973 RP Team members (Photo: …

Black and Racela passed the cellular phone repeatedly among each other all throughout the draw which was presided over by FIBA Secretary General Hagop Khajirian and attended by most of the representatives of the fourteen confirmed participating countries, officials of the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), members of the 1973 RP basketball team and various members of the media. The event was telecast LIVE over BTV with Jinno Rufino, Alex Compton and “The Dean” Quinito Henson with Patricia Bermudez-Hizon doing the hosting duties on stage and Riki Flores providing on ground coverage.

After the four groups became composed of three teams each, the Philippines—having a free choice of which group to join for the elimination round, being the host nation—was finally pressured by Khajirian to divulge the choice. Having no reply as Black was still conferring with Gilas Pilipinas Head Coach Chot Reyes who is presently with the team in a training camp in Lithuania, SBP Vice Chairman Ricky Vargas left his seat at the presidential table to approach the duo to speed up the process. Then, over a microphone that initially refused to cooperate, Black bared in a very clear voice: “The Philippines selects Group A.”

Applause ensued after the announcement as the implications on why Reyes, through his representatives, chose to be grouped with Saudi Arabia, political rival Chinese Taipei and 2011 FIBA Asia silver medallists Jordan.

“I wouldn’t have chosen Group A. I would have gone with Group D,” an official from the LOC confided, referring to the bracketing of Kazakhstan, India and one of the top two teams emerging from the upcoming Southeast Asian Basketball Association championship that happens later this month.

The “Group of Death”, which is always a group that usually (and unluckily) contains two or more strong teams, is undisputedly Group C. The first team drawn there—by no less than former RP quintet pivot Manny Paner—was defending titlist China. Paner’s teammate Ramon Fernandez was then tapped by Khalirian to make the next draw which also happened to be in Group C: South Korea. There was a buzz in the Centennial Hall of this posh hotel as it began looking like it was to be the group to be avoided. After a spate of draws that practically determined Group B, former Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) Secretary General and now LOC official Moying Martelino drew from the “Group” box and held out “C”. I exclaimed, “Iran!” Other members of the media around me also began echoing my plea. Then Martelino plucked out the country’s name and Khajirian smiled, shook his head and announced, “Iran!”

The whole place erupted in cheers as Group C was now officially the “Group of Death”.

But it was also that development that stalled the proceedings as the Philippines delegation—not included in the official drawing, being the host nation—had to now relay to Reyes what had just transpired. Group B, composed of Japan, Qatar and Lebanon at the time, was equivocally out of the question as the three abovementioned nations had a good chance of besting the locals during the group stages. So it came down to Group A or D.

“We chose Group A because it would give us the best chance of going deep in the tournament,” Black later said, reprising Reyes’ choice.

Group B later was joined by Hong Kong, Group C’s fourth unfortunate member is the second team from the SEABA tournament and Bahrain rounded out Group D.

Khajirian made it very clear, though, that the two “phantom” teams from the SEABA will be drawn after that tournament concludes.

“It does not mean when we say ‘SEABA 1’ or ‘SEABA 2’ that it means that the winner of the SEABA tournament is SEABA 1,” Khajirian explained. “We will conduct the draw later on so as not to influence how these teams will perform in their regional championship.”

After all, who would want to join Group C? However, one of the SEABA teams (forecasted to be Indonesia, Malaysia or Thailand) will have to be in the “Group of Death”.

Interestingly during the question and answer portion that followed the draw, broadcaster Chino Trinidad gave a “privilege speech” to the representatives of Chinese Taipei who were present. Trinidad, a staunch supporter of Philippine sports, reiterated to the would-be visitors from the island nation that they will be safe in the country during the tournament and that any animosity between the two warring nations will be conducted in the basketball arena. This was obviously a barb at the Taiwanese’s recent exclusion of the Philippines in the William Jones Cup due to safety concerns over the national contingent’s stint in the annual tournament—where the Philippines is the reigning champion.

To recap, here’s the FINAL OFFICIAL GROUPINGS:





















Khajirian also explained about the release of the official tournament schedule, which will be posted on the FIBA Asia official website, .

“The host nation (Philippines) shall select its initial opponent in the group stages,” Khajirian declared. “Once the host nation makes that choice, the subsequent scheduling will be enacted on. The official tournament schedule should be released not later than Monday (June 10).”

The event just made everything “real” for the country’s first hosting of this biennial tournament since 1973. Four of the members of that momentous squad were on hand to be feted by FIBA Asia and the SBP. They were Paner, Fernandez, Jimmy Mariano and Rosalio “Yoyong” Martirez.

The SBP had almost a full attendance with Chairman Oscar Moreno, Vice-Chairman Vargas, Executive Director Sonny Barrios and Marketing Head Willie Marcial on hand. SBP President Manny V. Pangilinan was absent due to pressing business affairs, but addressed the attendees through a message read by Vargas.

Among the notable basketball personalities who graced the undertaking were former national coach Joe Lipa, Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL) founder and chairman Rey Gamboa, Smart Sports Foundation’s Epok Quimpo, MERALCO’s Virgil Villavicencio and Talk n’ Text’s Bong Ravena.

Also, for the first time in the history of FIBA televising the competitions has there been a television special dedicated solely to the draw itself. Akin to how the NBA draft is brought to captive audiences, Solar’s Basketball TV (BTV) shows the entire process LIVE before millions of Filipinos. FIBA TV acknowledged that this is indeed the first time the draw is given this much exposure.

“We intend to make the televiewers witness the whole process by which the groupings will be determined,” explains Solar Entertainment Corporation’s Sports Marketing and Business Development Director Martin David. “Since we got news that the Philippines will be hosting this prestigious tournament, we’ve gone no-holds-barred on how we will be televising the whole experience, starting with today’s draw.”

Practically the entire network, led by Chairman and CEO Wilson Tieng lent its support in a show of force that the Solar Entertainment Corporation is ready to go full blast in bringing the television coverage to another level.

“History will be made this August,” David says. “We want to capture that for all the world to see.”

So did Reyes make the right choice in joining Group A? What do you think of Group C’s unfortunate draw? Is this the best opportunity the Philippines has to making it to the 2014 FIBA World Championships in Spain?

Stay right here as Yahoo! Sports Philippines will begin delving more into the 27th FIBA Asia Tournament as the games approach. LABAN PILIPINAS!

Follow Noel Zarate on Twitter (@NoelZarate)