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Gilas joins host Latvia, Georgia in Riga OQT

Gilas finds itself playing Latvia and Georgia to open its FIBA OQT campaign. Kennelf Monteza (file photo)
By Ivan Saldajeno

MANILA--Gilas Pilipinas will fly to Riga for a shot at making the Paris Olympics through one of the four FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments from July 2-7.

Following the group draw early Tuesday (Philippine Time) at the FIBA headquarters in Mies, Switzerland, Gilas was grouped with host country Latvia and Georgia in Group A of the Riga leg.

Gilas booked a place in the OQT after blowing out China in their last FIBA World Cup game at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City behind a monstrous third quarter from Jordan Clarkson, who could remain as the Philippine team's designated naturalized player pending a final verdict on Justin Brownlee's anti-doping violation.

Georgia, led by NBA player Goga Bitadze, made it to the Round of 16 phase of the FIBA World Cup in Okinawa but suffered blowout losses to Germany and Australia to miss out on making the trip to the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay for the final phase.

Latvia made it to the final phase after finishing tied with Canada for the top spot in their second-round group in Jakarta, eventually finishing fifth, which was considered too impressive for a debuting participant even without main man Kristaps Porzingis.

The other group in the Riga tournament consists of Brazil, Cameroon, and Montenegro, which saw action in the preliminary rounds of the FIBA World Cup at the MOA Arena.

Spain, Greece, and Puerto Rico will host the other three FIBA OQTs.

In the Valencia event, host Spain, led by the Hernangomez Brothers and Santi Aldama, plays Lebanon, who was led in the FIBA World Cup by Omari Spellman, Rhenz Abando's teammate at Anyang, and Angola, which played Gilas in the World Cup, in Group A, while Finland, led by Clarkson's Utah Jazz teammate Lauri Markkanen, battles Bahamas, led by Eric Gordon, and Poland in Group B.

On the other hand, the FIBA OQT in Piraeus is expected to be star-studded as NBA superstars Giannis Antetokounmpo of host country Greece, Luka Doncic, and Karl-Anthony Towns will be in the same city.

Antetokounmpo, who missed out on joining Greece in the FIBA World Cup at the MOA Arena, gets an early OQT clash against Towns, who was with the Dominican Republic side that edged Gilas in front of a new FIBA World Cup record 38,115 fans at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, as their teams are in Group B along with Egypt.

Doncic's Slovenia, on the other hand, is in Group A with Croatia, led by NBA players Ivica Zubac and Dario Saric, and New Zealand.

The San Juan OQT, meanwhile, has Lithuania, led by Jonas Valanciunas, Mexico, and Ivory Coast in Group A and host country Puerto Rico, led by Blackwater import Chris Ortiz, Italy, which begins life without Gigi Datome, and Bahrain, led by former Gilas naturalized player prospect CJ Giles.

The top two teams per group will clash in the crossover semifinals with the winners advancing to the final for the lone Olympic slot allocated for the city they are in.

NBA legend Luol Deng, who led South Sudan's quick rise to African basketball's upper echelon and into their first outright Olympic qualification after topping their FIBA World Cup classification round group at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, led the group draw.

Follow him on X: @IvanSaldajeno

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