Hola #Spain2014! Here come the Asian charmers!
KUALA LUMPUR (Mageshwaran's AsiaScope) - The 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup presents the best opportunity for three teams to showcase to the world the progress achieved by FIBA's most populous zones, FIBA Asia, in recent times.
That none of these three are from either China or India - who collectively account for more than a quarter of the world's population - makes the task for Iran, the Philippines and Korea all the more charming as well as challenging.
I don't for one moment suggest that any of these three are serious contenders for a medal at the world's biggest basketball event. Such a suggestion may sound churlish. It's after all the world's biggest basketball event.
But ridiculing their presence based only on results is equally impolite. These teams after all add their own array of variety and color to the very spectrum and spread of the world's second most popular sport.
Each of these teams are individually unique in their own right with their strengths and opportunities. This surely has to be acknowledged, even if not respected. But each of them are yet to become a force to reckon with in international basketball given their own weaknesses and threats. This is well accepted even if not approved.
FIBA Asia Secretary General Hagop Khajirian summed it up succinctly with his own brand of pragmatism: "We want our teams to prove to the basketball world that Asian basketball is growing. And basketball in Asia is growing. Nothing more. Nothing less."
"For us in FIBA Asia, the results from the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup are a measure to check how far the glass is from becoming full," he added.
Pragmatism apart, the Asian teams carry a lot of passion.
That Filipinos live and breathe basketball every moment of their daily routines is a fact - reflected by the gargantuan number of hits any basketball website gets from visitors from this South East Asian nation - all of us have come to marvel about.
There aren't many basketball websites on the internet that aren't visited by at least one thousand Filipinos every day and there aren't many Filipinos who don't visit at least 10 basketball websites every day. This is the most striking aspect of a Filipino day-to-day affair.
Iran, who silenced a jam-packed Mall of Asia Arena last August while beating the Gilas Pilipinas in the Final of the 27th FIBA Asia Championship in Manila, Philippines in 2013 are no less passionate.
Coming from a country where sport is fast becoming an expression of national pride and identity on the international stage for every Iranian, Team Melli is a term that Iranians hold very close to the heart and "Mashallah Iran" is a chant they scream without inhibition.
Iran indeed are the best prepared team from Asia. They have been for at least close to a decade now.
There has been a systematic investment of time, money and effort and shedding of blood, sweat and tears on the part of the powers-that-be and the players themselves which has made Iran not only a international team of credibility, but also a basketball society of credit. This is something that couldn't have been achieved without a devoted approach given the detractors within home and detractors outside.
For Iran, therefore, the trip to Spain 2014 is one of a quest for reiteration of the faith in themselves.
For the Philippines, it's a quest for pride. Every Filipino is already proud of the Gilas Pilipinas being at FIBA's flagship event. If nothing else, Sevilla - where they play their Group Phase games - will be swathed with the "Three Stars and a Sun" all along. Whether the humongous number of hits on the websites or the voracious support from the stands translates into triumphant performances on the court remains to be seen.
For the Philippines, therefore, the trip to Spain is a serious reality-check.
Korea bring the perfect mix of the above two factors in their game.
You can't expect the Koreans to come up with a performance based on size like the Iranians, but they certainly won't be weaklings. You don't expect the Koreans to go in with the speed of the Filipinos, but then again they won't be slow either.
Interesting to see how the scouts of the rival teams study them.
Korea, therefore, are on a mission to prove themselves to their own selves on the world stage.
That, in a nutshell, sums up the 'result prospects' of the Asian teams. There certainly won't be any lack of effort by any of them.
All these teams, like me, do know and believe that Rome was not built in a day!
FIBA's columnists write on a wide range of topics relating to basketball that are of interest to them. The opinions they express are their own and in no way reflect those of FIBA.
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