Quality cast in FIBA OQT a great treat to Pinoy hoops fans

The coming FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila is seen in many ways, depending on one’s perspective.

For one, it’s a surefire cutthroat competition where Gilas Pilipinas goes through the proverbial eye of the needle to achieve its goal of ending the country’s decades of absence in the Olympics. It gnaws at some Gilas fans.

For the true-blue basketball lovers, the super quality cast that will be in action right before their eyes is a great treat.

France, Canada, New Zealand and the Philippines all narrowly missed outright Olympic qualification from their respective FIBA zone elimination tourneys. Senegal, a five-time AfroBasket champion, was fresh from a fourth World Cup participation while Turkey is a worthy wild card entry with a silver-medal finish in the 2010 world championship.

These six teams were drawn to fight it out for one Olympic berth staked in the Manila OQT at the MOA Arena from July 5-10. Angola, Czech Republic, Japan, Latvia, Puerto Rico and Serbia compete in the Belgrade meet while Croatia, Greece, Iran, Italy, Mexico and Tunisia vie in the Turin conclave.

The New Zealand Tall Blacks and Gilas Pilipinas were silver-medal winners in FIBA Oceania and FIBA Asia, respectively, while Tony Parker and the rest of the Les Bleus and the Canadian quintet were second runners-up in FIBA Americas and in EuroBasket.

The Frenchmen roared mightily in EuroBasket until being stopped in overtime play in the semifinals by eventual champs Pau Gasol and his Spanish teammates.

Settling for the bronze medal with an 81-68 drubbing of Serbia, Tony Parker and the rest of the Les Bleus could well easily be the biggest crowd draw in the Manila OQT next to Gilas.

France, featuring other NBA players in Nicolas Batum (Charlotte), Joffrey Lauvergne (Denver), Evan Fournier (Orlando), Boris Diaw (San Antonio) and Rudy Gobert (Utah), pulled off wins over Finland (97-87 OT), Bosnia and Herzegovina (81-54), Poland (69-66), Russia (74-67), Israel (86-61), Turkey (76-53) and Latvia (84-70) in clinching an OQT berth.

Over in the FIBA Americas, Canada, bannered by Minnesota Timberwolves’ Andrew Wiggins, shared top spot with Argentina and Mexico in the elimination round before being upset by Venezuela, 78-79, in the semifinals.

Canada’s victories in the elims came at the expense of Cuba (101-59), Venezuela (82-62), Puerto Rico (112-92), Panama (103-66), Uruguay (109-82), Mexico (94-73) and Dominican Republic (120-103).

In the AfroBasket, Senegal swept Morocco (77-71), Mozambique (86-76) and Angola (74-73) in group play, then crushed Uganda, 79-48; and pummeled Algeria (75-58) to reach the Final Four where it was beaten by eventual champion Nigeria, 88-79, in overtime.

New Zealand dropped a two-game series versus Australia in FIBA Oceania to settle for an OQT spot while the winner automatically qualified to the Rio Games.

Turkey came through with a fighting 3-2 record in a tough group with Serbia, Spain, Italy, Germany and Iceland in EuroBasket elims but failed to get past the first round of the knockout matches. The Turks, however, were later awarded a wild card OQT berth.