MANILA, January 28, 2004  (STAR) By Joaquin Henson - A proposal to fuse the resources of the country’s major basketball leagues for the purpose of assembling a competitive national team to play in the World Championships and the Olympics is being drafted by a group linked to the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), a highly-placed source said yesterday.

The proposed framework will be similar to USA Basketball, an organization that is governed by officials of the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the US collegiate leagues. USA Basketball, not the NBA, is an affiliate of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) as the National Sports Association (NSA) for basketball in the US but because the country’s best players are in the NBA, the pro league has a major influence in managing its affairs.

The Philippine version will combine the resources of the PBA, the Philippine Basketball League (PBL), the Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP), the UAAP (University Athletic Association of the Philippines) and the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association).

The PBA study group will reportedly submit the proposal to the league’s Board of Governors for approval before selling the concept to other possible stakeholders.

The source said because Japan is hosting the 2006 World Championships and China the 2008 Olympics, there is a high probability of several Asian countries playing in both competitions–opening the door for the Philippines as an entry.

The Philippines has not played basketball in the World Championships since 1974 and the Olympics since 1972.

The top two finishers of the Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) championships are guaranteed tickets to the World Championships, held once in four years. But in Saitama in 2006, Japanese organizers are proposing to increase the number of participants from 16 to 24, raising the possibility of four Asian countries–including the host nation–in the tournament. That could mean bringing in the ABC third placer to the World Championships.

In the 2008 Olympics, a slot is reserved for China as the host nation and another for Asia. If China is the Asian champion, the runner-up will be elevated to play in the Olympics. The possibility of a third Asian entry in the 12-team Olympics looms if either China or the other Asian qualifier finishes in the top eight of the previous World Championships.

In USA Basketball, the NBA senior vice president for basketball operations Stu Jackson heads the committee that selects the players to comprise the national team for the Tournament of the Americas, the World Championships and the Olympics.

The source said if only the country’s basketball leaders would agree to join forces, a competitive national team could be formed with its sights set on participating in the 2006 World Championships and 2008 Olympics. It is a rarity that Asian countries will host both tournaments within two years of each other and the Philippines should take advantage of the situation to once more, showcase the exciting Filipino brand of play to the world audience–after an absence of over 30 years.

"It’s not only about winning the gold," said a fan. "It’s about the Philippines going back to the global stage to join the world’s elite in basketball. We deserve to play in the World Championships and the Olympics. Basketball is our No. 1 sport and we’ve got the talent to compete on the world level if only our leaders will agree to work as a team."

The Philippines–powered by PBA stars–nearly made it to the Asian Games finals in Busan two years ago but a fluke three-pointer at the buzzer robbed the national team of a guaranteed silver. Despite the loss, it was evident that the Philippines was back as a strong Asian contender.

In 2002, the PBA sent an All-Star squad to play a five-game series in Italy. The Filipinos improved dramatically from game to game as they adjusted to the European style of game. They lost the first four games then in their fifth outing, beat the Ukrainian national team in overtime. The showing was proof that with more international exposure, the Filipinos could hold their own against tough foreign opposition.

The PBA’s revised calendar, starting in October, will free three months during the year for international competitions. It will allow PBA teams to gain the experience of competing overseas.

In the Fiesta Cup starting Feb. 22, two foreign teams will see action beginning in the two-group, 8-team quarterfinals. Confirmed to play is the Lebanon national squad that took second place in the 2001 ABC championships. The other foreign team is expected to be African champion Angola which plans to use the PBA stint as its final warm-up for the Athens Olympics. Angola was here to play exhibition games last year but did not bring in four mainstays who were then training in the US. If Angola confirms its participation in the Fiesta Cup, it will play with a full lineup.

Japan had begged off from participating and Korea offered to send a collegiate all-star team that was turned down by the PBA. An Australian club from the National Basketball League may be tapped if Angola backs out.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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