Gates to re-open for FIBA qualifiers

MANILA, Philippines — The gates will once more be open to the public when the Philippines hosts Kazakhstan on Nov. 30 and Iran on Dec. 3, both at the MOA Arena, in the fifth window of the FIBA Asia/Pacific World Cup Qualifiers. In the Philippines’ previous home game, FIBA ordered a closed-door contest against Qatar at the Smart Araneta Coliseum last Sept. 17 as a penalty for failing to ensure crowd control during the Australia brawl at the Philippine Arena in the third window.

It’s the only back-to-back home stand for the Philippines in six windows and the homecourt advantage will come in handy as Gilas bids to solidify its chances of qualifying for the 32-nation FIBA World Cup in China on Aug. 31-Sept. 15 next year. In the sixth window, the Philippines will play on the road against Qatar on Feb. 21 and Kazakhstan on Feb. 24.

Of 16 teams that started the qualifiers, four were eliminated after three windows – Iraq, India, Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong. The remaining 12 teams are split into two groups of six. The top three finishers of each group will advance to the World Cup plus the fourth best team in either bracket. The seven qualifiers will exclude China which has an automatic ticket as host. At the moment, the Philippines is third with a 5-3 record in its group behind Australia (7-1) and Iran (6-2). Fourth placer Japan (4-4) is making a serious run to barge into the top three with four wins in a row since star forward Rui Hachimura’s arrival. Hachimura, however, is doubtful for the next two windows because of commitments to Gonzaga University where he is enrolled.

SBP special assistant to the president Ryan Gregorio said the training pool for the fifth window will be announced before the first day of practice in the first week of November. So far, the Philippines has checked in 28 players in the first four windows with Gabe Norwood the only mainstay to see action in eight games, averaging 5.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 23.6 minutes. Matthew Wright and Japeth Aguilar played in seven games, sitting out the Iran outing last Sept. 13 to serve their one-game suspension for participating in the Australia melee.

Seven Gilas players are averaging in double figure points in the qualifiers – Christian Standhardinger 30 points in one game, Jayson Castro 14.2 in five, Stanley Pringle 13 in one, JuneMar Fajardo 12.8 in six, Alex Cabagnot 12.5 in two, Andray Blatche 11.7 in six and Terrence Romeo 10 in two. Castro, Romeo, Blatche and Troy Rosario will be available for the Dec. 3 game against Iran as they will have served their three-game suspension by then. R. R. Pogoy, Carl Bryan Cruz and Jio Jalalon will be available starting the Feb. 24 game against Kazakhstan after serving their five-game suspension.

National coach Yeng Guiao said he may tap 18 to 20 players for the fifth window pool. Any 12 from the pool may be picked for the game on Nov. 30 and a different 12 may be chosen for the Dec. 3 contest for as long as they come from the same pool. “Players coming out of their three-game suspension will be seriously considered for the Iran game,” said Guiao. “JuneMar and Greg (Slaughter) should be healthy by then.” Fajardo and Slaughter are still recovering from injuries but may be cleared to play for the coming window, raising hopes for a Twin Towers to bolster Gilas’ inside game.

Guiao said since Pringle and Standhardinger may only be considered as naturalized players despite their Filipino bloodline, he could alternate the two in the next two games, assuming Blatche isn’t enlisted. That’s what Guiao did in the previous window where Standhardinger suited up against Iran and Pringle saw action against Qatar.

“Stanley against Kazakhstan and Christian against Iran is a likely scenario,” said Guiao. The Philippines will need Standhardinger’s size to neutralize Iran’s big men while Pringle could use his quickness to break down Kazakhstan’s zone defense. Fil-Am Jordan Clarkson of the Cleveland Cavaliers hasn’t played for the Philippines in the qualifiers and made his debut with the national squad at the recent Asian Games. If Clarkson suits up in the qualifiers, he will only be cleared as a naturalized player. Clarkson won’t be available for the Philippines in the next two windows because of his NBA commitments but may play in the World Cup if and when Gilas qualifies.