DECEMBER 9, 2006
(STAR) By Joaquin Henson - National basketball coach Chot Reyes said yesterday the Philippines would be a strong bet for a medal at the Doha Asian Games if only politics didnít interfere in disqualifying the team from participating in the 20-nation tournament.

Because of an internal leadership squabble, the Philippines was suspended by the Federation Internationale de Basketball (FIBA) last year with no end in sight as to when the ban will be lifted.

Steps were taken by the countryís basketball stakeholders to resolve the crisis with the creation of the unified Samahang Basketbol Ng Pilipinas last August but it appears the effort has gone for naught as the Basketball Association of the Philippines, expelled by the Philippine Olympic Committee as a National Sports Association, is now lobbying for reinstatement.

It is the first Asian Games where the Philippines will not play basketball since 1950. The national team struck gold in 1950, 1954, 1958 and 1962, bagged a silver in 1990 and took bronze medals in 1986 and 1998.

"Personally, Iím very disappointed," said Reyes. "I took two trips to Qatar to scout the opposition, see the place and get acclimatized. The flight is nine hours long so itís not as if it was a joy ride. I feel very sad, especially for the players who were looking forward to winning a medal for our country. I feel so bad that Iām not even checking on whatís going on in Doha."

Reyes said based on recent tournaments, his choices for the top four in Doha are China, Lebanon, Chinese-Taipei and Qatar in that order.

But with Yao Ming out of the Chinese lineup, Reyes said the tournament is wide open.

"This wouldíve been a good opportunity for the Philippines to medal," said Reyes. "Playing in the Asian Games wouldíve been the climax of our preparation that started with the Jones Cup last July and ended in winning the Sultanís Cup in Brunei. Itís tough not being able to play. Willie Miller, Tony de la Cruz, Eric Menk and Danny Seigle are all talking about it. They all feel we missed the chance to get a medal."

The surprise of the Doha tournament is Japan with early wins over Chinese-Taipei, 85-75, Lebanon, 78-67, and Uzbekistan, 75-56. Japan hosted the World Championships last September and finished in a four-way tie for 17th. Croatian coach Zeljko Pavlicevic was replaced by former national cager Kimikazu Suzuki who brought in five new players, including naturalized citizen Eric McArthur and veteran Kenichi Sako. But Japanís star remains sharpshooter Takehiko Orimo.

"It looks like Japan is getting ready for the FIBA Asia Championships next July in Saitama," said Reyes. "McArthur, Sako and Orimo are in their 30s so it seems the vision is not long-term. Japan is out to win right now."

Another surprise is Jordan with wins over Iran, 62-59, and Syria, 70-64. In the Sultanís Cup, the Philippines crushed Jordan, 107-67, and Ginebra San Miguel also whipped Jordan, 82-70.

China is off to a hot start, bowling over Kazakhstan, 89-77, Uzbekistan, 91-68, and Chinese-Taipei, 101-65. Coach Jonas Kazlauskas, a Lithuanian, is leaning on a nucleus built around 7-1 Yi Jianlian, 7-1 Wang Zhizhi and 7-0 Tang Zhengdong. He has reactivated veterans Li Nan and Zhang Jinsong to team up with skipper Liu Wei, 6-9 guard Sun Yue and 6-9 forward Mo Ke. Seven players from Chinaís roster in the last World Championships were retained.

Reyes said Kazakhstan isnít a threat even if the former Soviet state beat the Philippines for the bronze medal in Busan four years ago.

"We lost to Kazakhstan twice (by five and 12) in the Jones Cup this year but we didnít play our strongest team," said Reyes. "Last year, we sent our strongest team to the Jones Cup and we beat Kazakhstan."

In Doha, Kazakhstan has compiled a 1-2 record so far, upsetting Lebanon, 80-75, after losses to China by 12 and Chinese-Taipei by two. The team is led by 6-10, 18-year-old center Anton Ponomarev, 6-4 Andrei Shpekht, 6-6 Dmitriy Korovnikov and 6-7 Yevgeny Issakov.

The basketball competitions began last Nov. 23 with 12 teams vying for four slots in the tournament proper. Advancing from the qualifications were Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Syria and Bahrain.

Two groups of six are now playing in the single-round eliminations. The first group is made up of Qatar, Jordan, Korea, Iran, Syria and Bahrain. The second group is composed of China, Japan, Lebanon, Chinese-Taipei, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

The top four in each group move on to play in the knockout quarterfinals. The survivors then play in the semifinals with the winners disputing the gold medal.

Korea stunned China, 102-100, in overtime to win the basketball gold in Busan in 2002 despite Yao Mingís 23 points and 22 rebounds. A last-second triple by Koreaís Lee Sang Min prevented the Philippines from playing in the finals for a sure silver. The Philippines wound up by losing to Kazakhstan by two in the playoff for the bronze.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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