WITH Lebanon gone, Qatar, Japan and Hong Kong are already assured of seats in the second phase of the group stages of the 27th Fiba Asia Championship set Aug. 1 to 11 at MOA Arena.
This developed after Fiba Asia opted not to invite either Iraq or the United Arab Emirates to fill up the Group B void left by Lebanon, which was slapped a four-year suspension by the international basketball federation due to internal squabbles in its national association.
Qatar, with new head coach Tom Wisman at the helm, will head to the Manila championship after losing a pair of tuneup matches against Tunisia, 64-76 and 35-68.
“To me, the results of these games aren’t that important as I’m just trying out new permutations and combinations,” said Wisman, an Australian who coached Japan in the 2011 Fiba Asia in Wuhan, China.
Former national player Suzuki Kimikazu, who replaced Wisman in the Japan bench, has high hopes of landing one of three continental slots in the 2014 Fiba World Championship in Spain with center JR Sakuragi in the pink of health.
“Sakuragi plays an important role for this team. Several national teams have naturalized players as centers, so we need him,” said Suzuki, whose team will be flying to Manila following a winless campaign (0-7) in the recent Jones Cup in Taipei.
Japan is ranked 35th in the Fiba world rankings while Qatar is 36th. Hong Kong, which is back after its last appearance in 2007 Tokushima, ranks 71st.
Besides Sakuragi, Japan has a young core starring Kosuke Takeuchi, Takahiro Kurihara, Daiki Tanaka, Ryota Sakurai and Yuta Watanabe, a 6-foot-7 small forward who will play for St. Thomas More Preparatory School in Connecticut after the Fiba tournament.
Japan is ranked 35th in the Fiba world rankings while Qatar is 36th. Hong Kong, which is back after its last appearance in 2007 Tokushima, is 71st.