The twenty-eighth edition of the FIBA Championships, the most important men’s basketball tournament in Asia will commence on the 23rd of September 2015 in Changsha in the Hunan Province of China. The winner of the tournament will earn themselves an unhindered path to the 2016 Rio Olympics. The top three after the victors will earn a chance to redeem themselves, by playing in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in 2016.
Host nation China and defending champions Iran qualified as per FIBA regulations. Malaysia qualified by being runners-up in the South-East Asian Championships(SEABA) that took place in Singapore in April 2015. Japan qualified along with South Korea, Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong as the four top-ranked teams in the East Asian Championships. India qualified by beating Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Maldives and Bangladesh in the South Asian Basketball Championships that was hosted in Bengaluru in July 2015.
Banal as it is, the obvious does sometimes need stating. India’s path will certainly not be one of least resistance. Grouped with the incumbent kings of the Asian courts, Iran, Malaysia and Japan, the Indian hoopsters will have to flex muscles they didn’t know they had to pull off what we hate to call impossible, though true.
India’s first outing of the tournament will be against Malaysia, who ended their qualifying tournament, the South-East Asian Basketball Association championships, in second place. Malaysia were bested by division’s heavyweights and seven-time champions, the Philippines. The Malaysian national team is mainly composed of players of Chinese heritage. The team’s zenith was its World Cup qualification in 1986. It would be interesting to note that Malaysia did not figure in the top eight teams from last year’s tournament.
Thursday, the 24th will usher India’s most gruelling challenge as they share the hardwood with three-time defending champions Iran. The Indians will need nothing short of a miracle to one-up the most successful team in FIBA Asia history. In 2007, Iran won their maiden FIBA title, becoming the first West-Asian nation to do so, and qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Their performances in the FIBA World Championships aren’t at all memorable, but their dominance in the continental format will have all the other competitors squeamishly watching on and hoping the Indians pull a “Rocky”.
India’s last group match will be against Japan. Team Nippon have qualified for Olympic basketball six times and for the FIBA Worlds four times. The Land Of The Rising Sun boasts of several prominent players who have made it to the NBA, but at the cost of their national responsibilities. Japan, two-time FIBA Asia champions was a founding member of FIBA Asia in 1936. Japan’s sixth-place finish at last year’s tournament shouldn’t lull India into lowering their guard, as the team is still very potent.