MANILA (2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments) - On Tuesday, FIBA held the draw for the 2016 Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQTs), which will be held in the Philippines (Manila), Serbia (Belgrade) and Italy (Turin) this July.
Let's take an early look at what awaits the hoop nuts in the Manila leg of the OQTs, which will be played at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City, the same site of the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship.
The teams were divided further into two groups. Turkey, Senegal and Canada comprise Group A, while France, New Zealand and hosts Philippines are in Group B.
At first glance, the Manila event promises to be the toughest draw, with potentially upwards of 20 NBA players converging on the Philippine capital. France and Canada alone have enough NBA-caliber players to fill up all the spots of their respective rosters.
Canada and Turkey are undeniable favorites in Group A, though Senegal should not be overlooked, too, especially after advancing past the group stage at Spain 2014. France are the heavy favorites to top Group B with New Zealand and the Philippines probably fighting for the right to advance to the next round. It should be a good preview, though, as both the Kiwis and the Filipinos will soon play each other more often in the FIBA Asia-Pacific subzone that will be implemented in 2017.
Here's a quick rundown of each of the Manila leg teams.
This is another team that is chock-full of NBA pedigree. They were also tied for the best record in the 2015 FIBA Americas with Argentina (8 wins and 2 losses). Still, that wasn't enough for them to secure an outright spot to Rio 2016 after the got blindsided by Venezuela in the Semi-Finals, 79-78. The Canadians, though, managed to bounce back in the battle for third place, upending hosts Mexico, 87-86. Like France, Canada can parade as many as 12 NBA players in Manila, but that doesn't mean they will simply railroad past Senegal and Turkey, whose size may give the Canadians some fits.
The French actually had the best record at EuroBasket 2015, winning all but one of their nine games. That one match they dropped was in the Semi-Finals to Spain, 80-75 in overtime. They then bested Serbia for third place. If they arrive at full strength, France should be bannered by inconic guard Tony Parker along with promising young guys like Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier, and Joffrey Lauvergne. Of course, veterans Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw should also be present to round out the roster. Remember that this team won by an average on more than 15 points in their first seven EuroBasket 2015 games. Without a doubt, this is the team to beat not only in their group, but in this whole leg.
The Kiwis couldn't beat Australia in their series of matches to determine Oceania's representative in Rio. Despite that, New Zealand should be a force to reckon with in Group B. With NBA center Steven Adams possibly making an appearance to bolster an already formidable frontline composed of Mika Vukona, Isaac Fotu, and Tai Wynyard, the Kiwis will sure make life tough for the hosts and may even have the potential to upset the French.
Nothing makes Filipino basketball fans more excited than seeing their Gilas Pilipinas team square off against top-level competition. They will get their wish here as Gilas will be facing top-shelf opponents. When they lost a hotly-contested Finals game to China, they knew the road to Rio just got that much more difficult. This time around, though, they may have rising NBA star Jordan Clarkson joining former NBA frontliner Andray Blatche as this team’s main anchors. If guys like Jayson Castro, June Mar Fajardo, or even current NBA D-League player Ray Parks, Jr. manage to play solid basketball, then the Philippines, buoyed by what should be a raucous crowd, may just turn some heads and spring some surprises.
The Senegalese had a great run at AfroBasket 2015, winning their first five contests. Gorgui Dieng was playing inspired basketball, leading his team in scoring and rebounding. Forwards Antoine Mendy and Maleye N'Doye were also contributing heavily. Disaster struck in the Semi-Finals, though, when Nigeria rallied past them in overtime. They then succumbed to the Michael Roll-led Tunisians in the battle for third place. Dieng should reprise his role as this team's leader, while former NBA players Hamady N'Diaye and Mouhamed Sene may also return to action. Perhaps even 7ft 6in (2.30m) Mamadou N'Diaye of UC Irvine in the USA's NCAA may get a call-up. Senegal will have impressive size and length, but they just may not be deep enough to get past a loaded Canadian squad and a Turkish squad hungry for redemption.
Speaking of Turkey, this former European powerhouse tumbled to a 14th place finish at EuroBasket 2015 and they sure are ready to bounce back in a big way. They lost badly to Spain and Serbia last summer and were pushed to the limit by Iceland, eventually prevailing 111-102 after overtime. They then faced France in the Round of 16 with the hosts wasting no time in subduing the Turks, 76-53. They will probably lean on naturalized player Bobby Dixon anew along with Ersan Ilyasova, Cedi Osman, and Semih Erden. Guys like Omer Asik and Emir Preldzic may also return to the team after skipping the 2015 games. Maybe even Oklahoma City big man Enes Kanter will make an appearance. Turkey will be the underdogs when they play Canada in Group A, but they should be favored over Senegal.