November 29, 2022

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MANILA CHAMPIONS. Team Saitama Alphas received their cash prize and the ticket to the Chooks-to-go FIBA 3x3 World Tour Cebu Masters tournament from Chooks to Go president Ronald Mascariñas (middle wearing mask) after winning the Chooks to-Go Pilipinas 3x3 International Quest in Laguna last September 16. On October 1 & 2. Saitama Alphas and its fellow Japanese squad Utsonomiya Brex and fellow Asian teams that include Cebu Chooks and Manila Chooks of the Philippines will play against the world elite teams on October 1 & 2 at the SM Seaside City Cebu.

Japan, a rising Asian power

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LAGUNA’S BEST. Team Saitama will parade Tomoya Ochia, Ryo Ozawa and Serbian duo of Marko Milakovic and Teodor Atanasov, the same line-up that won them the Sta. Rosa Laguna qualifier when they battle against the top teams in the FIBA 3×3 World Tour Cebu Masters.

Mongolia has been recognized as Asian power in FIBA 3×3 basketball for the past couple of years. It is the 4th ranked country in the world in the FIBA 3×3 standings. And the highest ranked Asian team in the FIBA 3×3 World Tour is Ulaanbaatar which sits at the 8th spot.

 

Until recently when other Asian countries were threatening Mongolia’s position as the pre-eminent Asian team in the FIBA 3×3 World Tour. One of them is the Philippines with Cebu Chooks that has secured 25th spot in the world ranking, the other one is Japan which has two of its teams performed illustriously in the World Tour.

 

These two teams, the Utsunomiya Brex and the Saitama Alphas, will be seeing action in the Chooks-to-Go FIBA 3×3 World Tour Cebu Masters on October 1-2 at the SM Seaside City Cebu.

 

The Utsunomiya Brex is the highest-ranked Japanese team in the world at 28th. In World Tour opener – the Utsunomiya Masters, which was hosted by Utsunomiya Brex hosted last May 14-15. They dropped close decisions to World no.2 ranked Liman of Serbia, and Team Sakiai of Lithuania, which is 6th in the world. Utsunomiya ultimately finished 9th in the tournament.

 

The team also finished 9th in the Ulaanbaatar Challenger. They had their best performances in the 3×3 tour at the Energy Sukhbaatar Challenger on August 6 & 7, where they finished 5th place, and on September 10 & 11 Penang Challenger, where they wound up 6th.

 

The Utsunomiya Brex is bannered by a pair of Japanese veterans – 6-foot-1 Yosuke Saito, the second highest ranked Japanese in the world at 166th, and 6-foot-2 Yasui Iijima. The two are complemented by a duo of outstanding Serbian reinforcements. 6-foot-4 Dusan Popovic is ranked 117th in the world. His namesake, 6-foot-4 Dusan Samardzic is 107th in the world and was the star of the Serbian national team that placed 3rd in the FIBA 3×3 U23 World Cup.

 

The Saitama Alphas, on the other hand, are coming back to the Philippines just 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 number 10 Lausanne of Switzerland, 22-20. Saitama eventually placed 7th in the competition, even higher than Cebu Chooks which finished at 8th place.

 

Saitama will be fielding in the same roster that won the in Sta. Rosa. Expected to lead is 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, the 2022 FIBA 3×3 World Cup, and the 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. (RCM)