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GILAS TESTS ASIAN RIVAL KAZAKHSTAN FRIDAY

In the run-up to the opening of the 27 th FIBA Asia Championship, host team Gilas Pilipinas plays two more warm-up games, taking on a PBA select team Wednesday at the MOA Arena and the Kazakhstan squad Friday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

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Kazakhstan is an interesting assignment, considering this central Asian team is a potential matchup for Gilas Pilipinas in the quarterfinal round of the Asian world qualifier slated Aug. 1-11 at the MOA Arena and at the Ninoy Aquino Stadium.

While the home team is grouped with Jordan, Chinese Taipei and Saudi Arabia in Group A, Kazakhstan is bunched with Bahrain, India and Thailand in Group D. The tall team from the former Russian republic is tipped to find its way to the knockout stage where it may cross paths with Team Philippines. That’s the forecast since Gilas Pilipinas is likely to finish first or second in the A-B side while the Kazakhs can well make the do-or-die stage as third or fourth qualifier from the C-D bracket.

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A tall team with decent outside gunners, Kazakhstan is the No. 1 team from Central Asia which once finished third in the Asian Games and fourth in the FIBA Asia Championship.

The Philippines beat Kazakhstan for the bronze medal in the 1998 Bangkok Asiad but the Kazakhs got back at the Filipinos, also in the fight for bronze, in the next Asiad in Busan. In 2007, the Kazakhs made it two in a row versus the Filipinos, beating the PHL team in their Jones Cup meeting in Taipei. In the succeeding FIBA Asia tourney in Tokushima, Japan, the Philippines failed to make it past the preliminary round while Kazakhstan went all the way to the semifinals. The Kazakhs, however, dropped to ninth in 2009 in Tianjin and didn’t compete in Wuhan in 2011.

After a four-year absence in Asian basketball, Kazakhstan looks to return with a bang, reinforced by Euro League veteran Jerry Jamar “Triple J” Johnson under Italian coach Matteo Boniciolli.

Equipped with tall frontcourt players and able wing guys, the Kazakhs filled a vacuum in their backcourt in naturalizing Johnson, the star guard of the Astana team in the Kazakh league.

Kazakhstan has become a lot dangerous with the addition of the Rider University Hall of Famer who has carved a niche in Euro basketball with worthy tours of duty in Turkey, France, Belgium, Lithuania and now Kazakhstan.

Johnson brought his act to Europe after missing the final cut in the LA Clippers team for the 2006 NBA season.

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