MONGOLIA has been the recognized Asian power in the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) 3×3 basketball for the past two years but its lofty reputation is under threat.
Ranked No. 4 in the world and No. 1 in Asia, Mongolia’s Ulaanbaatar team sits at eighth spot in the FIBA 3×3 World Tour.
But several countries are after Mongolia’s scalp and one of them is the Philippines with Cebu Chooks! securing No. 25 in the world ranking. The other is Japan which has seen two of its teams perform creditably in the World Tour.
Japanese teams Utsunomiya Brex and the Saitama Alphas will see action in the Chooks-to-Go FIBA 3×3 World Tour Cebu Masters set this Saturday and Sunday 2 at the SM Seaside City Cebu.
The Utsunomiya Brex is the highest-ranked Japanese team in the world at No. 28. In the opener of the World Tour, the Masters dropped close decisions to Liman of Serbia, ranked No. 2 in the world, and to Sakiai of Lithuania, No. 6 in the world.
Utsunomiya finished ninth in the tournament.
The team also finished ninth in the Ulaanbaatar Challenger and set their best performances in the 3×3 tour during the Energy Sukhbaatar Challenger where they finished fifth and in the Penang Challenger where they landed at sixth place.
The Utsunomiya Brex is bannered by Japanese veterans 6-foot-1 Yosuke Saito, the second highest ranked Japanese in the world at 166th, and 6-foot-2 Yasui Iijima.
They are complemented by a duo of outstanding Serbian reinforcements—6-foot-4 Dusan Popovic (No. 117 in the world) and namesake 6-foot-4 Dusan Samardzic (No. 107 in the world). Samardzic was the star of the Serbian national team that placed third in the FIBA 3×3 U23 World Cup.
The Saitama Alphas, on the other hand, are returning to the Philippines two weeks after reigning supreme in the Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3×3 International Quest held last September 16 in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.
The Alphas have been active in the FIBA 3×3 tour and are challenging Utsunomiya Brex’s claim as Japan’s top team.
In the Penang Challenger, Saitama made it all the way to the quarterfinals despite having just three players on the roster and going through the qualifying draw. The Alphas earned a slot in the main draw after defeating Penang of Malaysia and Lusail of Qatar.
In the main draw, the Alphas pulled the upset rug from world No. 10 Lausanne of Switzerland, 22-20. Saitama eventually placed seventh in the competition—higher than Cebu Chooks which finished eighth.
Saitama will be fielding the same roster that won the in Sta. Rosa led by Tomoya Ochia, who at 176th in the world is the third highest ranked Japanese 3×3 player.
Ochia is a long-time member of the Japan national 3×3 team and played in the Tokyo Olympics, 2022 FIBA 3×3 World Cup and 2022 FIBA 3×3 Asia Cup.
Six-foot-six Serbian Marko Milakovic, who starred in their title conquest, and compatriot 6-foot-9 Teodor Atanasov, plus Japanese-Australian Ryo Ozawa complete the Saitama squad that wants to show in the Cebu Masters that they are the real Alphas of 3×3 basketball.