Host Philippines, defending champion China and two-time titlist Iran loom as early favorites in the 27th FIBA-Asia Men’s Basketball Championship that starts in Manila on August 1.
The Iranians won the biennial tourney for the first time in 2007 in Tokushima, Japan, by beating Lebanon (74-69). China at that time sent a lowly team because as host they have already qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympiad.
Iran, with Hamed Haddaji, repeated by beating China, 70-52, in the 2009 edition in the Chinese’s own turf Tianjin.
China bounced back in 2011, and regained the crown by nipping Jordan, 70-69, in Wuhan, China.
China is the winningest nation in FIBA-Asia, with 15 titles. The Philippines is second with five titles. The last was in 1985 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, when naturalized players Chip Engelland, Jeff Moore and Dennis Still combined with Samboy Lim, Hector Calma and Allan Caidic.
Japan, South Korea and Iran each has two titles.
All told, the FIBA-Asia is dominated by only five countries out of 44 member-nations since it began in 1960.
The Philippines won the first two stagings, the inaugural tourney held in Manila in 1960 by beating Formosa, now known as Chinese-Taipei, and in 1963 by trouncing Formosa again in the finals (91-77) held in Taiwan.
What makes Iran the team to beat in the 27th edition was its victory in the FIBA-Asia Cup last year in in Tokyo and the recent 2013 Jones Cup in Taiwan.
China is trying to repair its image its debacle in the 2012 London Olympics where it lost all its games.
They dropped American coach Bob Donewald after that and hired Greek veteran mentor Panagiotis Giannakis.
Ginnakis regained the pride for the Chinese team by leading it to a runner-up finish behind Argentina in the 2013 FIBA Stankovic Continental Champions Cup in Guangzhuo, China, last July 9.