MANILA,  November 18, 2004 (STAR) By Joaquin Henson - Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) secretary-general Graham Lim said yesterday how the national team–made up of Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) players–performs in next year’s Jones Cup will reveal its potential to qualify for the 2006 World Championships in Saitama, Japan.

Lim said if the International Basketball Federation expands the teams in the World Championships from 16 to 24 as proposed, there will be three Asian qualifiers, including host Japan. That means the top two finishers in the 2005 Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) tournament in Doha, Qatar, will represent the region in Saitama. If Japan places first or second in Doha, the ABC’s third placer will qualify for the World Championships. Japan has an automatic ticket to the World Championships as the host country.

Lim confirmed that the PBA-backed national team has the priority to represent the country in the ABC Champions Cup in June and the Jones Cup in Taipei in July. The ABC Champions Cup is a club competition where imports are allowed. This year’s ABC Champions Cup, won by Qatar, was held in Abu Dhabi. No site has been designated for next year’s ABC Champions Cup.

Lim said PBA Commissioner Noli Eala phoned last Friday to inform him that the draft Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) stipulating the terms of agreement between the PBA and BAP with regard to a cooperative effort in forming the national team would be sent to the BAP office. Eala told The Star he hopes the MOA will be signed this week. The MOA has a term of four years.

"Okay ang samahan namin ni Commissioner Eala," said Lim. "We’ve met at least thrice. We are very open sa isa’t isa. It is important in this relationship that we trust and respect each other. We welcome our partnership with the PBA. We share the same goal–to regain our country’s position of strength in Asian basketball. Our dream is for our national team to eventually qualify for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing."

Lim said he is optimistic of the Philippines’ chances to qualify in the World Championships and the Olympics.

"I know it will be hard," said Lim. "It’s a big challenge for all of us. But we will try our best. If Asia has three qualifying slots in the World Championships and the Olympics, our chances are good. Our first test is the Jones Cup. That will be our gauge. Kung maganda ang showing natin sa Jones Cup, there will be basis for optimism."

Lim said he does not think the recent Department of Justice (DOJ) findings on the culpability of six Fil-foreign players in falsifying documents to obtain Filipino citizenship will diminish the chances of the national team. Three of the six saw action for the Philippine squad that finished fourth at the Busan Asian Games two years ago. They were Asi Taulava, Mick Pennisi and Rudy Hatfield.

"Maybe it was providential na hindi tayo nag medal sa Busan kasi if we won a medal, baka naging kulelat bigla tayo since there will surely be protests regarding the composition of our team," said Lim. "We would be asked to give up our medals and we would forfeit all the games where the three ineligible players played kaya we would be relegated to last place. Since hindi tayo nag medal, wala ng protesta."

Lim said losing the three Fil-foreigners will give a chance for homegrown players to prove themselves.

"Basketball is not an individual sport," said Lim. "It is a team sport. Kaya I believe the key to winning does not lie with individual stars. Marami tayong malalaking players with potentials. It is up to the national coach to get the players to play together as a team."

Lim said neither the BAP nor the PBA could be held liable for suiting up the ineligible players in Busan.

"All our national players were confirmed by the government to be Filipino citizens at that time," said Lim. "We are not in a position to question the government. If a player has a Filipino passport and his Filipino citizenship is confirmed by the government, who are we to question? In the same manner, now that the citizenships of some players were revoked by the government, we also cannot question that ruling."

Lim said the PBA will not participate in forming the national team for the Southeast Asian Games here next year and the Asian Games in Doha in 2006. Cebuana Lhuillier has the BAP’s mandate to assemble the national team for both competitions.

"The Lhuillier contract with the BAP is up to 2006," said Lim. "We are giving the Lhuillier group our 100 percent support. Marami sa kanilang bagong recruit ay mga bata kaya the BAP will be asking the PBA not to take them for the draft until after the Asian Games. Anyway, the players are receiving allowances from Lhuillier so they’re well taken care of."

Among Lhuillier’s fresh recruits are varsity stars Christian Luanzon of the University of Santo Tomas, B. J. Manalo of La Salle and Nino Canaleta of the University of the East.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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