FROM busy preparing as host of the third window of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers (ACQ) here, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) is now turning its attention to working on the requirements of the Philippine national men’s basketball team for the now-relocated event in Qatar.

Originally set to take place at Clark City in Angeles City, Pampanga, next month, the FIBA ACQ window is now to be played in Doha after the SBP made the tough decision to pull the plug on the country’s hosting in consideration of the prevailing conditions with the coronavirus pandemic.

The SBP, in consultation with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), said the hosting was rendered impossible with the current health and safety protocols in place.

In particular, the ongoing travel ban on incoming foreigners from countries with known cases of the new variants of the coronavirus.  

The Clark window was set to host teams from Group A, which has Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand, along with the Philippines, and Group C, which has New Zealand, Australia, Guam, and Hong Kong.

The competition was to be done under a “bubble” setup from Feb. 18 to 22, similar to that staged by the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) last year.

No longer hosting, the local federation, through special assistant to the SBP president Ryan Gregorio, said focus is now on having the requirements of Gilas Pilipinas ready in time for the Doha competition.

“Logistically, it’s a challenge since now we have to get the passports of those who will be joining and getting the other requirements of Doha for the window. I understand only 25 people are allowed for every delegation and we have to be there days prior to the competition to observe health and safety protocols. Hopefully, we can address all them,” said Mr. Gregorio on The Chasedown program on Cignal TV on Saturday.

Doha will also be the venue for matches in Group B and Group E.

Gilas Pilipinas is currently at the INSPIRE Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna, for its training bubble in preparation for the third window where it is angling to improve on its 3-0 record and formalize its entry in the Asia Cup with at least one victory.

It is set to play three matches in Doha, two against Korea (2-0) and one versus Indonesia (1-2). Thailand (0-4) remains winless in the grouping.

Mr. Gregorio shared that there was disappointment initially among the players in the bubble after hearing of the cancellation of the Clark bubble, but that they are moving on and determined to make things happen in the third window.

“There was disappointment, of course. But the players are wired that they are representing the country and that they have to be ready, regardless where it will be. They know it’s for the country and we’re happy how they are responding,” he said.

SBP is also working on having National Basketball Association G League player Kai Sotto in the country at the soonest possible time, Mr. Gregorio said, so he can join the pool in training.

“We’re working to bring Kai Sotto as soon as possible for the window. There are a lot of moving parts and it is taking longer than expected because of the pandemic. But hopefully, by next week, he’ll be here.”

In Gilas training, waiting for 18-year-old Sotto are a pool of players composed of PBA and cadet members. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo