GILAS Pilipinas now has one less formidable foe to worry about in the Manila Fiba Asia Championship next month.
Lebanon, the original host of the Aug. 1 to 11 spectacle, has been suspended indefinitely by the Fiba Asia because of internal squabbles in its national cage federation.
That means Filipino cage fans won’t be seeing the legendary Fadi El-Khatib up close and the Philippine national squad won’t have to worry about hurdling the tough Lebanese five in the second round of the preliminaries
Taking Lebanon’s place in Group B will be Iraq which is expected to join the Filipinos in the second phase of the eliminations.
Gilas Pilipinas is bracketed in Group A together with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Chinese-Taipei with the top three placers in each group advancing to form Group E and play another round robin.
Lebanon, which used to be led by NBA veteran Jackson Vroman, would have also unveiled a new naturalized player in Andre Emmett, a tested scorer in the US NCAA.
The Lebanese had finished second in the Fiba-Asia championship twice since 1999.
After the parties failed to settle their differences, the Fiba Asia suspended the country from all of its sanctioned events. The suspension on the Lebanese came as a surprise since the secretary general of Fiba Asia, Hagop Khajirian, comes from Lebanon.
The Philippines initially bid—and lost—in the hosting rights to the Lebanese last September in Japan. But the uncertainty in the peace and order situation in Beirut prompted the Fiba Asia to award the hosting right to the Philippines last January, and Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Manny V. Pangilinan said in a press statement yesterday that the country is now 90 percent ready to host the games.
Meanwhile, Smart Gilas repeated over Hawke’s Bay Hawks, 73-70, in its training stint in New Zealand. The Filipinos also beat the Bay Hawks, 82-78, Friday night.