Follow FIBA on Facebook
Six players I wish to see for the Asian FIBA OQTs-bound teams
MANILA (Enzo Flojo's Asia on my Mind) - The Philippines, Iran and Japan are all still in contention for spots in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and though the odds are certainly stacked against all three countries, hope springs eternal.
Japan were drawn to play in Belgrade, Serbia and are grouped with European teams Latvia and the Czech Republic. Iran, meanwhile, were drawn to play in Turin, Italy, and are pooled with powerhouse Greece and FIBA Americas team Mexico. The Philippines, by virtue of being named one of the hosts of the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQTs), will play at home in Manila, and are in the same group as European power France and the dangerous Tall Blacks of New Zealand.
No doubt all three Asian teams are not among the heavily favored to advance and book tickets to Rio 2016. The task is not impossible, but it is definitely daunting, which is why all three teams will need nothing short of their very best for the OQTs.
Japan, in particular, stands to benefit from the return to the national team's active roster of two key veteran campaigners: big man Kosuke Takeuchi and wingman Kosuke Kanamaru. Both were missing in action for Team Hayabusa at the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship due to injury, but they look pretty healthy and ready right now.
Takeuchi, naturally, will add to Japan's size, and he stands to be the team's primary threat around the basket. Teaming up with his twin brother Joji will also be a huge plus, since the last time they played together at any level close to this was way back in 2011 at the FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan, China. If both guys are healthy and willing, Japan will be able to parade a highly-skilled twin tower combo in Serbia. Kanamaru, for his part, is widely regarded as Japan's top three-point shooter. I would go so far as to say the he is the heir apparent to legendary sniper Takehiko Orimo. Having Kanamaru will add significant experience and depth to Japan and should further stretch opposing defenses.
Iran, too, will need a couple of big men to further strengthen their own chances. Yes, with former NBA player Hamed Haddadi patrolling the paint, Iran has a formidable frontline, but against the likes of Greece and a Gustavo Ayon-led Mexico, even a behemoth like Haddadi will need all the help he can get. He can get that help from the likes of Arsalan Kazemi and promising young prospect Mohammad Yousofvand.
Kazemi was once a mainstay of Team Melli before reports of a falling out hampered his return to the team after toiling in the USA's NCAA and trying to make an NBA roster. He has the size and skill-set to be a very solid power forward in the international game and potentially a very effective co-star to Haddadi up front. If he can return to Iran's fold, he will be an integral asset. Yousfovand is an intriguing prospect. He will be 20 by the time the OQTs get underway in early July and is considered a potential future pillar of the national side. Standing 2.07m (6ft 10in) tall, he can play both power forward and center positions and, at the same time, gain valuable experience that should fast-track his development. It should be a win-win for him and for Team Melli.
Lastly, as the home team, the Philippines will have a significant advantage in terms of familiarity with the environment and having their overwhelmingly passionate fans boosting their spirits. Despite these, however, higher-ranked France and New Zealand will remain the favorites to move on from their group. Yes, this despite the possibility of former NBA big man Andray Blatche and current NBA rising star Jordan Clarkson donning the Filipino kit. For Gilas Pilipinas to really rise up and make a dent, two guys who were absent from last year's FIBA Asia Championship have to be present this time around: reigning PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo and perimeter specialist Marcio Lassiter.
When last called up for national duty, both Fajardo and Lassiter begged off for various reasons, but fresh from winning the 2015-2016 Philippine Cup with their club team, these two should be shoo-ins for the OQT. At 2.07m, Fajardo is a rarity in the Philippines, but it's not just his size that makes him a tough cookie. He has grown his game since last playing at the world level at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. With two MVP plums under his belt, Fajardo is ripe to turn a lot of heads this year. Lassiter should also have a similar effect. He last wore the Philippine quad-colors in 2011, and a return to the national team will not only satisfy fans' desires to see him again, but also give Gilas a much-needed boost in its three-point shooting. If both Fajardo and Lassiter suit up alongside Blatche, Clarkson, and the iconic Jayson Castro, the Philippines may yet shock the world.
FIBA's columnists write on a wide range of topics relating to basketball that are of interest to them. The opinions they express are their own and in no way reflect those of FIBA.
FIBA takes no responsibility and gives no guarantees, warranties or representations, implied or otherwise, for the content or accuracy of the content and opinion expressed in the above article.