THE Philippine national men’s basketball team will be in for a challenging ride in the opening round of the World Cup Asian Qualifiers, according to the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP).

Speaking on the Power & Play program on Saturday, SBP President Alfredo “Al” S. Panlilio said Gilas Pilipinas still has its work cut out for it in the qualifiers despite being lumped in what could be considered an “easier” group.

Gilas is in Group A with New Zealand, Korea and India in the first round of the qualifying phase, with games set to begin in November this year.

Mr. Panlilio said the nationals could easily have been grouped in the tougher Group B with Australia, China, Japan and Chinese Taipei, but with the luck of the draw avoided it.

But the SBP chief asserted that such does not guarantee instant success in the tournament, especially since at World Cup level all teams are capable of holding their own.

“Everybody’s improving, everybody wants to do better in all these competitions so it’s a great challenge ahead and it’s exciting,” he said of what they are expecting come competition time.

New Zealand is the highest (International Basketball Federation) FIBA-ranked team in Group A at number 25, followed by Korea (29th), the Philippines (31st) and India (78th).

The Philippine actually is already assured of a spot in the World Cup, being one of the three host countries along with Japan and Indonesia, but the national team has made it known that it will go in the qualifiers seeking to do well as part of its preparation for the 2023 basketball event.

Gilas is currently in the process of charting the path it will be taking for its World Cup Qualifiers push.

Among the things they are tackling is the composition of the team, lining up meetings with various stakeholders, including the local collegiate leagues and the professional league from which the players will come from. Local players currently playing abroad as well as Filipino-foreign players are also being considered.

Further foreign exposure is also being readied for the national team, seeing how beneficial it has been for the development of the squad.

For Asia/Oceania, six spots are up for grabs in the 32-team field that will see action in the World Cup.

The rest of the groupings have Lebanon, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia in Group C; and Iran, Kazakhstan, Syria and Bahrain in Group D.

As per FIBA schedule, the two-round qualification windows will run until February 2023. The national sides play home and away games across each of these event windows.

FIBA recently released a preliminary schedule of the opening round, with Korea hosting the Philippines on Nov. 25 then Gilas playing the Koreans here on Nov. 28 in the first window.

In the second window, Gilas plays India on Feb. 25 and New Zealand on Feb. 28.

The Philippines ends its assignments in the third window against India on June 30 and New Zealand on July 3. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo