Gilas replaces New Zealand in FIBA Olympic qualifiers

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Photo courtesy: FIBA

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 26) – Gilas Pilipinas rekindles its shot to play in the Tokyo Olympics as it replaces the New Zealand Tall Blacks in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament at Belgrade, Serbia.

Basketball New Zealand confirmed on Friday it will withdraw from the FIBA OQT and FIBA 3x3 OQT, which prompted the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) to announce the Philippines as the replacement for the Belgrade Olympic qualifying joust.

"Philippines will replace New Zealand at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2020 in Belgrade, Serbia as the next best team from the Asia-Oceania Region in the FIBA World Ranking Men," FIBA explained its decision.

Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas President Al Panlilio promises to send the best Gilas Pilipinas roster for the upcoming Olympic qualifiers.

"Whenever we compete in international tournaments, we always aim to send the best team possible to make our Filipinos proud," he said.

Panlilio added they will be in touch with the Philippine Basketball Association for the creation of the Gilas team that will be sent to Belgrade. He also hopes Ivorian center Angelo Kouame's naturalization will be signed into law before the OQT to boost the competitiveness of the national team.

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The Belgrade Olympic qualifiers, scheduled from June 22 to July 4 this year, will feature six teams in two brackets. Gilas will play at Group A alongside the host country and Dominican Republic. Group B is composed of Puerto Rico, Italy, and Senegal.

The two best teams in each group will advance in the semifinals, where the winner will battle in the finals. The tournament's champion will be the sole team that will play in Tokyo, specifically in Group B alongside Australia, Nigeria, and the champion of the Split, Croatia Olympic qualifying tournament.

The Philippines hosted one of the 2016 Olympic qualifiers in July that year, where Gilas put up a gallant stand against eventual tournament champion France and New Zealand.

Gilas is currently ranked no. 31 in the FIBA world rankings and the sixth best national basketball team in Asia. China and South Korea are the other Asian teams playing in the Olympic qualifying tournaments at Victoria, Canada and Kaunas, Lithuania, respectively.

Iran and Japan are the only Asian countries which automatically qualified in the coronavirus-postponed Tokyo Olympics men's basketball tournament, moved to July this year. Japan qualified as the host country, while Iran was the best-ranked Asian country in the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup.