LABAN PILIPINAS. All the way

How far will we go as the lords of Asian hoops invade the nation for the prestigious 2013 FIBA Asia Championship this month? We say:

Manila will be the epicenter of Asian basketball as 16 of the best teams in the continent will slug it for the FIBA-Asia Championship, August 1-11. It promises to be charged up spectacle of topnotch hoops, balls-to-the-wall action, and, of course, bushy crops of facial hair. Only the top three teams will get a Golden Ticket to the FIBA World Championship in Spain next year and have the chance to swap sweat with the likes of LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Luis Scola. So help us, God! This year, experts are quite torn about who’ll finish at the podium. Remember, no team is a shoo-in the top three, which only guarantees thrilling competition from Day 1. Here’s a little cheat sheet for the best and the worst of the much-awaited hardcourt wars.

IT’S MORE FUN IN THE PHILIPINES

Obviously, the Pinoys will be the rowdiest and craziest fans in the tournament. After 40 long years, Manila is once again the host of FIBA- Asia. We can’t stress enough how huge this is for our basketball-insane populace. Some of you will get super creative in excusing yourself from work to watch Gilas Pilipinas live in action. We know some of you are also dying to scream, “Tang*na mo, banol” at the opponents. There are 20,000 seats in Mall of Asia Arena, the event’s venue, to fill, guys. Let’s make it happen!

BEST/WORST UNIFORMS

We’ll be overtly biased here and say that Gilas has the best uniform. Scratching off the sponsor’s name and simply putting PILIPINAS in front is a laudable move. Also, minimalism is best when it comes to these things.

As for the worst, well, Jordan gets the nod. The team’s uniform in 2011 got too minimalist—the team’s name wasn’t even on it! Was there some kind of mix- up in the production? Or were they drastically cutting costs? Even inter- barangay squads could do better!

THE ‘SIXTH MAN’ MATTERS

Does hosting the tournament usually make a gold medal finish a cinch?

In the 27 stagings of the biennial meet, it has only happened six times: 1960, 1973, 1989, 2001, 2003, and 2011. Our dear ol’ Lupang Hinirang did it the first two times and China then doubled our gold medal haul by ruling the next four. Could we summon the magic that last happened here 40 years ago? Maybe it’s doable if we make like Minions and riotously sing BA BA BA BABANANA to irritate our enemies into submission.

WHY OFFICIATING COULD RILE US UP

Since referees come from different leagues and backgrounds, they all have varying interpretations of the rules—plus, majority have trouble expressing themselves in English. Majority of international refs also call games by the book. A slight nudge…oops, that’s a foul, son! A millimeter of an extra step…hold it, that’s traveling! This will be a bit of distraction for our Gilas boys, who are used to the more malleable officiating in the pros. Can Marc Pingris play his physical defense? Can Jeff Chan get away with his Ginoblish Euro-step? Only the zebras will know.

THE ONE WE’D LIKELY FACE IN THE FINALS (NAKS!)

With players as tall as bamboo, China owns the most titles in tournament history with 15. The Philippines, ranked 45th best in the world, is a far second with five. But in the overall medals tally, South Korea leads the pack with 23, followed by China’s 18, and Japan’s 14. The last time the Philippines won the title was back in 1985 in Malaysia, where the Hon Jacobs-coached Northern Consolidated Cement team beat China.

ONE FOR THE AGES

The oldest player in the tournament is 41-year-old Takehiko Orimo<Japan). Following him are 34-year-olds Enver Soobzokov (Jordan), Fawaz Gassas and Mohammad Al-Hawify (Saudi Arabia), and Gilas’s senior citizen, Gary David. The youngest player, meanwhile, is 16-year-old Bhamara (India). Not far behind are 18-year-olds Ahmad Ibrahim (Lebanon), Guo Ailun (China), and Lee Jong-Hyun (South Korea).

BEWARE OF THESE ‘IMPORTS’

The tournament is also peppered with naturalized players, non-Asians who acquire citizenship from the country they’re representing. Some expected to suit up are our very own Marcus Douthit, South Korea’s Moon Tae- young (formerly Greg Stevenson), and Chinese-Taipei’s Quincy Davis. But better than naturalized players are naturalized players with legit NBA experience. This year’s list includes Qatar’s Jarvis Hayes (drafted 10th overall by the Washington Wizards in 2003), Jordan’s Andre Emmett, and Japan’s J.R. Sakuragi (formerly J.R. Henderson).

GUARANTEED TO ZIP PAST FOES

Despite his success since college, Jayson Castro has always been overshadowed by his peers. Rarely mentioned as often as L.A. Tenorio, Jimmy Alapag, and Alex Cabagnot in best point conversations, Talk ‘N’ Text’s speedy combo guard may turn out to be the team’s X-factor. He’ll surely shine in Gilas’s dribble-drive system because of his terrific ankle- breaking handle, his astute on-court decisions, and his decent accuracy from the perimeter and in the paint. His nickname, The Blur, says it all.

SARTORIAL A LA PAT RILEY

Aside from his coaching acumen and mastery of Twitter, the only five-time PBA Coach of the Year Chot Reyes also possesses a distinctive avant garde fashion sense. He treats the sideline like it’s his personal catwalk. Why wear a plain polo shirt when you can don long sleeves with weird patterns? Why put on a dull pair leather shoes when you can sport pastel-colored loafers? We’re no Tim Gunn, sure, so we’ll leave the daring dressing up to Coach Chot. We don’t have the scoop on whether he’ll continue his one-man fashion show in the FIBA-Asia or wear the same uniforms worn by his deputies. But one thing’s for sure, he won’t be out of style.

NAME OF THRONES

Google says Singh is one of the most popular surnames in India. That’s why it isn’t surprising to find five Singhs in the Indian national team: Amitpal, Talwinderjit, Amjyot, Jagdeep, and Yadwinder. We couldn’t find out if they’re brothers or related to one another, but four of them do come from the same basketball club of Punjab Police. Oh yeah, there’s a sixth Singh: assistant coach Rajinder. We already feel sorry for whoever’s handling the team’s logistics.

HABA NG NAME

Iran’s star wingman Mohammad Samad Nikkhah Bahrami owns the tournament’s longest name with 26 letters while Yi Li of China has the shortest.

Other interesting names include Alexander Tyutyunik of Kazakhstan and J.R. Sakuragi of Japan (he’s all yours, Pingris). We don’t know how great Thai bailer Attaporn Lertamalaiporn is, but his provocative name alone instantly makes him one of the tourney’s projected crowd darlings.

MOST EXCITING PLAYER MATCHUPS

The field isn’t lacking in talent, that’s for sure. That’s why we thought it’d be fun to pick a player from each position and match them up against each member of Gilas’s projected starters.

SUPLADO LANG ANG PEG

Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes has been really cautious about publicizing the team’s preparations, as though he’s guarding the list of KFC’s 11 secret spices. Asked by FIBA’S website about what they learned in their training camp in Lithuania, he quipped: “There’s nothing much to share. We want to keep our team preparations as close to our team circle as possible.” He also kept his mouth shut when asked why the Philippines chose Group В (which includes Saudi Arabia, Chinese Taipei, and Jordan) during the draw, a host nation’s privilege: “We have our reasons. I’d rather not answer this question.”

TO THE KANGKUNGAN, QUICK!

The honor for the undistinguished whipping boys of FIBA-Asia tag is actually a four-cornered free-for- all among Bahrain, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Saudi Arabia. In 2011, Bahrain and India both only managed one victory. Saudi Arabia hasn’t been relevant since 1999 when it won the bronze medal, while Hong Kong and Thailand last qualified in 2007 and 2001, respectively. Euphemism aside, sila ang mga teams na pupulutin sa kangkungan. Or if you’re social, will be picked up from the swamp cabbage patch.

YOUR CHEER-LOUDLY-AGAINST LIST!

Defending champion China, ranked 11th in the world, is obviously the team to beat with its lineup of veterans. Iran, ranked 20th in the world, is also strong with the imposing Hamed Haddadi and fellow stars Nikkah Bahrami and Mahdi Kamrani back for another tour of duty. Another team that could cast doom on our championship bid is Jordan, the 2011 FIBA-Asia runner- up, led by do-it-all guard Sam Daghles and hard-nosed forward Zaid Abbas.

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