May 24, 2024

Road to Asian supremacy: Can Gilas Pilipinas prove mettle in FIBA Asia?

Road to Asian supremacy: Can Gilas Pilipinas prove mettle in FIBA Asia?
Art by Mitzi Solano/One Sports

Kings of Asian basketball.

A number of countries held the claim to the title. Gilas Pilipinas, for one, laid stake to it after ending a 61-year-old gold medal drought in the Asian Games.

China had an undisputed run both in the Asian Games and in the FIBA Asia Championship. Team Dragon had a four-peat at the Asia Games from 1986 to 1998, adding up to a total of eight titles. At the FIBA Asia Championship, China had TWO five-peats, going for a total of 16.

Iran and its strong core led by Hamed Haddadi had a remarkable run in FIBA Asia. South Korea even picked up the Asian Games gold four times with its sharp shooting.

The entry of Oceania changed all that, as Australia nabbed back-to-back titles in the FIBA Asia Cup.

But Japan had the last laugh, securing a spot in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

With such a competitive field, can Gilas Pilipinas say it is truly the king of Asian basketball?


A look back at the 19th Asian Games

This is by no means a knock on the Philippines' impressive feat at the Asian Games.

The Philippines gained its fifth men's basketball gold medal by beating the best in the field. But boy were those harrowing ones.

In the quarterfinals, Gilas Pilipinas blew a 20-point lead and managed to survive Iran by a single point, 84-83.

[ALSO READ: Tim Cone upset but unfazed by Gilas' near collapse vs Iran, shifts focus on China in Asian Games semifinals]

 

The acid test was the semifinals, as Gilas Pilipinas took on hosts China. And Team Dragon was roaring for revenge after the loss in the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

But Justin Brownlee worked his magic to erase a 21-point disadvantage over a young Chinese squad looking to rebuild after the glory days with Yao Ming, Yi Jianlian, and Guo Ailun. There was no Zhou Qi in this squad either.

The score, Gilas Pilipinas winning by a thread, 77-76.

[ALSO READ: Justin Brownlee conjures magical endgame, sends Gilas Pilipinas to Asian Games finals vs Jordan]

  

The Asian Games men's basketball finals showed the rise of a new Jordan. Zaid Abbas and Hashem Abbas can rest easy, with Freddy Ibrahim and Ahmad Dwairi now at the helm of the Falcons.

And then there's the rebirth of Kobe Bryant in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

Gilas Pilipinas--and Justin Brownlee--made history, 70-60.

[ALSO READ: Gilas ends 61-year gold medal drought in Asian Games after beating Jordan]  

 


A look back at the 2022 FIBA Asia Cup

Now the 19th Asian Games didn't have a few teams present in the FIBA Asia Cup.

Wael Arakji and the Cedars of Lebanon withdrew in the Asian Games due to injuries. The Asian Games didn't have New Zealand and Australia either.

In the qualifiers, the Tab Baldwin-led Gilas Pilipinas did something magical. The collegiate core defeated South Korea, not just once, but twice to come out undefeated.

  

Who can forget this "Salamat, Belangel" moment and this impossible shot?

  

But Gilas Pilipinas got a reality check in the main tournament, after tasting defeat at the hands of Arakji and the Cedars.

  

And then there's the Tall Blacks of New Zealand.

Gilas Pilipinas absorbed a 106-60 and an 88-63 beating from the Tall Blacks in the 2023 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.

In the 2022 FIBA Asia Cup, the Tall Blacks got the 92-75 victory over Gilas Pilipinas.

  

As fate would have it, Gilas Pilipinas would get another chance to solve the Tall Blacks puzzle in Group B of the FIBA Asia Cup 2025 Qualifiers.

No Shea Ili, Taylor Britt, Izayah Le'Afa, and Jordan Ngatai, who competed at the FIBA World Cup. New Zealand is letting more players shine.

And providing valuable insight for New Zealand is Tom Vodanovich, who suited up for the Converge FiberXers in the recent PBA Commissioner's Cup.

Back in the 2022 FIBA Asia Cup, Japan cut off any hopes for Gilas Pilipinas, as the Akatsuki Five won the playoff spot, 102-81.

  

The Philippines finished in ninth place.


A look at the FIBA Asia Cup 2025 Qualifiers

The Philippines was drawn in Group B against Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, and New Zealand.

FIBA rankings:

  • New Zealand: Second in Asia, 21st in the world
  • Philippines: Eighth in Asia, 38th in the world
  • Chinese Taipei: 16th in Asia, 78th in the world
  • Hong Kong: 26th in Asia, 119th in the world

There will be three windows: February 2024, November 2024, and February 2025. In those periods, each team will be battling the other countries in the group via a home-and-away format.

The aim is to finish in the top two and earn a direct berth to the FIBA Asia Cup. The third best teams in each group will be participating in another qualification round for the final four slots.

Full groups

  • Group A: Thailand, Australia, South Korea, Indonesia
  • Group B: Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Philippines, New Zealand
  • Group C: China, Guam, Japan, Mongolia
  • Group D: Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia
  • Group E: Iran, Kazakhstan, India, Qatar
  • Group F: Bahrain, Syria, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates

The first time in Gilas Pilipinas' task to prove its claim as the best in Asia is to take care of business in the first window.

Gilas Pilipinas has beaten Chinese Taipei before in the 2019 FIBA World Cup qualifiers.

  

And the Philippines should start out strong against Hong Kong as well.

[ALSO READ: Guide to the FIBA Asia Cup 2025 Qualifiers

It's a small step, but one that should be taken with respect nonetheless, on the road to Asian supremacy.

Then the Philippines can think of a way to finally beat New Zealand.

The one thing that Gilas Pilipinas got going for them is the solid chemistry built starting from the 2023 FIBA World Cup and the 19th Asian Games. There's no better exposure than that.

There's a foundation built, and they can expect the same squad to continue for the next four years.

[ALSO READ: Only the Young: LA Tenorio acknowledges bright future for Gilas Pilipinas

Who knows? Maybe the Olympic dream could even become a reality.

[ALSO READ: Paris? LA? Gilas Pilipinas' road to the Olympics begins in FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers, says Tim Cone

Gilas Pilipinas will start the FIBA Asia Cup 2025 Qualifiers on February 22, 8 p.m. against Hong Kong. The Philippines will then host Chinese Taipei on February 25, 7:30 p.m. at the Philsports Arena.

The games will air live on One Sports, One Sports+, RPTV, and Pilipinas Live.