[FIBA World Cup qualifiers] Home-and-away FIBA qualifiers tucker out national players

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—The modesty still continued for Australian Boomers coach Andrej Lemanis after his squad’s gruelling win over Japan yesterday in the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers.

But more than the polite remarks over the Asian teams that the Boomers started playing against at the regional level since September, fatigue looms in the background for travelling teams in FIBA’s pilot home-and-away format.

Lemanis admits the selection of National Basketball League (NBL) players only got themselves together last November 20 prior to the trip to Taipei City. Australia to Asia, at least East Asia, is at least 12 hours to include one stopover. Straight flights from either Melbourne or Sydney can be eight hours minimum.

Center Daniel Kickert topscored for the Boomers with 22 pts. in its win over Japan, 82-58. (photo from FIBA)

Center Daniel Kickert topscored for the Boomers with 22 pts. in its win over Japan, 82-58. (photo from FIBA)

Brisbane Bullets center Daniel Kickert, who topscored in the Boomers’ 82-58 win over Japan, admits the distance between countries, and the gaps in-between scheduled games, “takes a toll.”

From Taipei City last Nov. 24, the Boomers flew out and got to Adelaide the following day. Their practice session was only Sunday, Nov. 25 prior to the game against the Akatsuki five of Japan at the Titanium Security Arena in Findon suburb.

“We only had a 24-to-36 hour period to adjust,” Kickert told reporters at the post-game press conference. The two games for the Boomers were a rest for them in the ongoing NBL season.

This window period and distance that Australia experienced recently will soon be experienced by the Philippines. Gilas will first play hosts Australia, at a venue yet to be announced, on a Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018.

The next home game against Japan will be on Feb. 25.



Amid the jetlag, Kickert swished four-of-four from three-point land en route to towing the Boomers with 22 pts. and seven rebs.

But the mobile 6’10” center is wishing for an extra day’s sleep. “An extra day will be huge for us, especially in the middle of the season.”

Long-time Gilas tormentors Korea pulled off an upset last Nov. 24 over New Zealand in the Kiwi capital of Wellington, 86-80, on Nov. 23. However, a second-rate team from FIBA 2019 hosts China drubbed a beleaguered Korean squad, 91-82, in Seoul.

Seoul to Wellington is at least 16 hours if non-stop.

Lemanis finds interest in how the home-and-way games, patterned after football for the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, brings interest into home fans. FIBA is piloting these home-and-away games to check if the “FIFA-like” home country fever is brought to a lesser-popular sport in many countries, including developed countries.

But travel is the “only challenge,” Lemanis said.

“If you want the best games, and if you want your athletes to be in the best shape, you need the time for them to actually recover from the flights.”

This may help explain why Gilas’ naturalized player, Andray Blatche, struggled in the first two qualifying matches. He played two games at the Chinese Basketball League then arrived in Manila on the evening of Nov. 18. Gilas left for Tokyo, a four-hour trip from Manila, Nov. 22.

The new format forces countries to not field in their countries’ best players given their commitments in local leagues, or even the National Basketball Association. Australia, for example, has seven players in the NBA but Lemanis credits having a “deep bench” whose players —at this time and given the new FIBA format— “are willing to play for the Green and Gold.”

Golden State Warrior Omri Casspi of Israel regrets missing Israel’s games in the European qualifiers and calls the new FIBA format “weird, obviously.” “No NBA, no Euroleague (players) playing in these qualifications,” Casspi was quoted in an Associated Press report. “Kind of taking away from the fun of the game, in a sense.”

(Israel drubbed Estonia in Tel Aviv. However, Israel got whacked by powerhouse Greece in the next game in Heraklion, Greece.)

The Japanese played physical against the Australians in Findon, to the point that they got close to 48-55 in the third quarter when Australia missed some four shots after taking a 49-33 lead. That was when Lemanis let Olympian Christopher Goulding come in and drain two triples to put some distance for the Boomers.

Meanwhile, the Philippines had to survive a fourth-quarter comeback by Akatsuki in Tokyo. In Manila, Chinese-Taipei hung close and exchange leads until the final three minutes of the game through the heroics of Jayson William.

Blatche had his worst game for the Philippines yesterday.

In nearly three months, Gilas is set to prepare for a 12-14 hour trip to Australia and a return trip —of the same distance— to Manila. The new season of the Philippine Basketball Association, beginning with the All-Filipino Cup, would have been in the late eliminations phase by that time.

Nevertheless, Lemanis looks forward to playing a “fun” game against the Philippines for the first time. “That’s (Philippine matchup) a good challenge for us,” Lemanis said.



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