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SBP visits China to inspect World Cup venues, observe hosting preps

A delegation from the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) went to China for two very important reasons: to check the accommodations and venues in the three cities where Gilas Pilipinas could end up playing, and to learn as much as they can from China in preparation for the Philippines' co-hosting of the 2023 FIBA World Cup with Japan and Indonesia.

It was a whirlwind tour for the group as explained by Ryan Gregorio, the Special Assistant to the President of the SBP, who was also joined by Gilas Pilipinas team manager Gabby Cui, SBP Director of Operations Butch Antonio, and 2023 FIBA World Cup head of operations Cito Martelino.

"We left last Saturday and visited three cities in three days: Beijing, Foshan and Wuhan," said Gregorio.

"The first stop was Beijing. We checked the 19,000-seater Cadillac Arena and stayed at the Shangri-La Hotel, Beijing. The next day, we traveled to Foshan where Hilton Foshan is the designated partner hotel. We finally wrapped our stay by flying to Wuhan. The nice state of the art Wuhan Gymnasium was shown. The same venue that Gilas Pilipinas played at in 2011."

The team, then known as Smart-Gilas Pilipinas, did well in Wuhan, making it all the way to semifinals. However, they suffered a tough loss to Jordan in the Final Four, a team they defeated in the second group stage. Jordan was then led by former Gilas Pilipinas and current Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin.

Gilas Pilipinas, along with Serbia, Italy, and Angola, will be playing their group games in Foshan. If the national team advances, they will move to Wuhan for the next stage of the competition. If not, they will go to Beijing for the classification round.

For Gregorio, having an advance party to check out the venues and hotels could work to their advantage.

"Familiarity of the ins and outs of the venue will be a plus," he explained. "From the playing environment as well as the distance from the hotel to the playing venue. It will help us minimize the distractions and we can just focus on playing."

However, Gregorio said the most important learnings from the trip are the ones the SBP could use down the road in 2023.

"From venue inspection to hotel accommodations, we also did a lot of benchmarking as we are also preparing for our hosting in 2023. SBP President Al Panlilio instructed us to make sure that we will have a glimpse of how China is preparing for World Cup 2019," he added.

"The biggest takeaway is the benchmarking that we were able to do for our hosting in 2023. The best practices of China will definitely be adopted. FIBA is very strict with the venue provisions. As much as the locker rooms in the Beijing Arena are okay, these still did not pass the standards of FIBA. So they are compelled to renovate in time for the opening. I believe that the Philippines' designated venue, Smart-Araneta Coliseum, must do some upgrading of the locker rooms to pass the standards as specified by FIBA. We have a four-year runway to make our three venues in Smart-Araneta, Mall of Asia Arena, and Philippine Arena World Cup 2023 ready."