Jordan Heading and Nic Dalafu, both foreign players with Filipino roots, got the clearance to play as the Philippines go for a strong start in the Fiba Asia U16 tournament Wednesday night at 7 (8 p.m. Manila time) here at the Khanh Hoa Sports Center.
“They have good wingmen, so that’s our concentration, just like what we did in Seaba,” national youth coach Olsen Racela said of the Indonesians.
The Philippines posted its biggest winning margin against Indonesia (109-46) during its championship sweep of the Southeast Asian Basketball Association (Seaba) U16 in Banting City, Malaysia, last August.
Heading, a 6-foot-1 Filipino-Australian, leads the first five of Andrei Caracut, Rev Diputado, Tomas Ramos and Jay Javelosa.
“It’s a good combination of new guys and veteran players from Seaba,” said Racela.
Although questions were raised on the eligibility of Heading and Dalafu, a Filipino-American, during the technical and team manager’s meeting late Monday, Philippine team officials said the squad was able to present the pertinent documents.
“We did not experience such as an ordeal as in Wuhan,” said Bernie Atienza, deputy executive director of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP). “We were actually ready for any eventuality or obstacle that we may face against Fiba Asia.”
Just last month in Wuhan, China, Smart Gilas Pilipinas Filipino-American stalwarts Marcio Lassiter and Chris Lutz got barred from playing in the first three games of the Fiba Asia men’s tournament as Fiba Asia deputy secretary general Hagop Khajirian questioned their eligibility.
Both Lassiter and Lutz eventually rejoined the team after the SBP secured the document clearance on their citizenship.
Khajirian was the same official who questioned Heading and Dalafu’s eligibility.
The tournament pitting the top 15 Asian junior teams for two world berths kicked off yesterday with lopsided results as Japan routed Saudi Arabia, 86-36, in Group C; Lebanon crushed Uzbekistan, 108-21, in Group B; and Chinese Taipei drubbed Malaysia, 71-37, in Group A of the preliminary round.
After Indonesia, the Philippines takes on host Vietnam on Thursday in Group D.
Indonesian youth coach Ricky Gunawan said his team has made “some changes” since their third-place finish in Seaba.
“Fiba Asia is a very competitive tournament, so we must make some adjustments,” said Gunawan.