All roads lead to the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan, on Aug. 25, the opening day of the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
After the opening ceremonies, the first game, between Italy and Angola, will commence at 4 p.m. The Philippines’ Gilas Pilipinas will then see action against the Dominican Republic in a game that begins at 8 p.m.
The 19th edition of the quadrennial event will be held until Sept. 10. It comes amid, and is expected to provide Filipinos a distraction from, the steady increases in fuel and rice prices, the continuing aggression of China’s coast guard in the West Philippine Sea, the worsening traffic, and the still-inadequate number of teachers and classrooms for the start of another school year.
In an apparent move to ensure a hassle-free opening day and encourage attendance, Malacanang has announced the suspension on Aug. 25 of work in all government agencies and classes in all public schools in Metro Manila and Bulacan. The Philippines last hosted a FIBA Basketball World Cup, then known as the FIBA World Championship, 45 years ago in 1978, just three years after the founding of the Philippine Basketball Association.
The current Basketball World Cup gate attendance record—32,617—was set in Toronto in 1994, when the US team led by Shaquille O’Neal beat Russia in the final match. It is hoped that Gilas Pilipinas’ opening game with the Dominican Republic at the 55,000-seat Philippine Arena will break that record.
The highest attendance set during the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup held in China was 18,000, for the matches of the United States against Japan and the United States against Turkey.
Hosted by 3 nations
For the first time in tournament history, the FIBA Basketball World Cup is being co-hosted by three countries—the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia. Okinawa in Japan and Jakarta in Indonesia will each host two preliminary-round group and one second-round group matches. The Philippines—with the games to be played at the Philippine Arena, Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, and Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City—is hosting four preliminary-round group and two second-round group matches, as well as the final tournament phase (the quarterfinal, semifinal, third-place, and final matches, which will all be held at the Mall of Asia Arena).
In addition, Filipinos will have the best chance of watching live a number of basketball’s biggest names worldwide. The expected top drawers are the matches of the US team composed of players of America’s National Basketball Association (NBA).
The other competing countries will also be fielding players from the NBA, including the Dominican Republic, which is now reinforced by the Minnesota Timberwolves superstar Karl Anthony Towns. Angola will be bannered by Bruno Fernando of the Atlanta Hawks, and Italy by Simone Fontecchio of the Utah Jazz. Fontecchio is a teammate of Jordan Clarkson, who is now part of Gilas Pilipinas’ lineup.
Serbia, which will also play all its group matches here, will feature Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Atlanta Hawks, Aleksej Pokusevski of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Nikola Jovic of the Miami Heat, and Filip Petrusev of the Philadelphia 76ers. Lithuania will banner Jonas Valanciunas of the New Orleans Pelicans, and Azuolas Tubelis of the Philadelphia 76ers. Montenegro will have Nikola Vucevic of the Chicago Bulls.
The Philippines’ participation is an attempt to redeem its basketball image after finishing dead last in the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Among 32 competitors, Gilas Pilipinas ended up in the cellar, failing to notch a single win in five games and accumulating the worst point differential (-147 points) in the entire tournament.
This time, with the home crowd behind each game, coach Chot Reyes is banking on Clarkson, an NBA Sixth Man of the Year (2021), as well as Gilas Pilipinas veterans June Mar Fajardo (center of San Miguel Beermen), Japeth Aguilar (center of Barangay Ginebra San Miguel), Kiefer Ravena (point guard of Japan’s Shiga Lakes), CJ Perez (shooting guard of San Miguel Beermen), and Roger Ray Pogoy (shooting guard of TNT Tropang Giga).
Playing in their first FIBA Basketball World Cup are 7’3 Kai Sotto (center of Japan’s Hiroshima Dragonflies), Dwight Ramos (shooting guard of Japan’s Levanga Hokkaido), Scottie Thompson (shooting guard of Barangay Ginebra San Miguel), Ariel John Edu (power forward of Japan’s Toyama Grouses), Jamie Malonzo (small forward of Barangay Ginebra San Miguel), and Rhenz Abando (guard of Korea’s Anyang KGC).
The 2023 Gilas Pilipinas second match is scheduled on Aug. 27 against Angola and on Aug. 29 against Italy. Both games start at 8 p.m. at Araneta Coliseum.
Groups A (Angola, the Dominican Republic, Italy and the Philippines), B (China, Puerto Rico, South Sudan and Serbia), C (Greece, Jordan, New Zealand and Greece), and D (Egypt, Lithuania, Mexico and Montenegro) will play all their matches in the Philippines.
Okinawa will host the matches of Group E (Australia, Finland, German and Japan) and Group F (Cape Verde, Georgia, Slovenia and Venezuela), and Jakarta will host the matches of Group G (Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire, Iran and Spain) and Group H (Canada, France, Latvia and Lebanon).
The top two teams of each bracket will advance to the second round while the losing teams will play classification matches to determine team rankings from 17 to 32. All the games of the 16 contending teams will be held at the Mall of Asia Arena from Sept. 5 until the final game on Sept. 10.
Ticket to Paris Olympics
The 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup will not only crown its champion because the tournament’s top ranked teams will directly qualify for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris (July 26 to Aug. 11). Seven spots will be allocated: the two highest ranked teams from the Americas, two for Europe, and one each for Africa, Asia and Oceania.
The all-important question is if Gilas Pilipinas will finally make a breakthrough. It needs only two wins to get past the group stage, and that chance could be against the Dominican Republic and Angola. It is hoped that Gilas players minimize turnovers and make three-point shots as well as free throws, and that Clarkson delivers a monster performance.
The best finish for the Philippines was made a long time ago—in 1954, when it placed third in the world behind Brazil and champion United States. That was when it bannered the likes of two-time Olympian Carlos Loyzaga, Edgardo Ocampo and Lauro Mumar, three of the best basketball players the Philippines has ever produced.