Vincent Collet to boast strong France team, Blatche thumbs up for Gilas, Rio 2016 blog

When the clock struck midnight across the world to bring in 2016, many people celebrated, raised their glasses, messaged loved ones and closed the chapter of 2015 ready to begin a fresh start.

And for those that look at things through the prism of sports, many were thinking of one thing: Olympic year.

The Rio 2016 Olympics are now close by, and as we ready ourselves for the opening ceremony at the famous Maracana on August 5, the basketball tournament looks set to be one of the main focuses of the two-week sporting extravaganza.

So to update us on the build up to the Rio Games, and especially the Olympic Qualifiers, let our blog help guide you until early August.

Men:

PODIUM DREAMS FOR COLLET

France have not booked their ticket to the Rio Olympics, but coach Vincent Collet is looking beyond the upcoming Olympic Qualifiers.

Les Bleus will be in July’s Olympic Qualifiers and despite the possibility that some of his NBA stars might not be available due to the continuing season in the league, Collet is confident he will have a strong squad at his disposal ready for the tournament.

“We will start training camp a month before the Olympic Qualifying Tournament and perhaps we won’t have all the players from the start, but we will have them joining as quick as possible,” Collet told FIBA.com. “If they finish [the club season] just before the tournament they won’t have to prepare, if they finish earlier they will come to preparations.

“In any case we will find the way to be ready because this is a major event for this group [of players]. We did well the last couple of years, even if at the Eurobasket [2015] the colour of the medal was not what we would have liked, and we need to follow that line next summer.”

Two of Collet’s NBAers, Nicholas Batum and Eurobasket 2013 MVP Tony Parker gave their word once just after claiming bronze at last summer’s Eurobasket that they will compete in Rio and earn their spot on the podium.

Will Tony Parker and Nicholas Batum be on the podium when the Rio Olympics are done? Photo: FFBB.

BLATCHE GIVES THE THUMBS UP 

Philippines are quite possibly one of the most basketball-crazy countries in the world, but it has not competed in the Olympics in 44 years.

The current batch of international talent that graces the national vest and the pride of the Philippines are looking to change that, led by coach Tab Baldwin and naturalized power forward/center Andray Blatche.

And the latter has confirmed that he will be in the team for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

“After we decided that we will compete in the Rio Olympics [Qualifiers], we immediately informed Andray,” Gilas team manager Butch Antonio said to Panay News over the weekend. “He’s given his assurance he’ll be available and he’s okay.”

In his first appearance for the Philippines, Blatche averaged 21.2 points and 13.8 rebounds per game at the 2014 World Cup in Spain, and despite being out of shape; he averaged 17.8 points and 9.2 boards at last summer’s FIBA Asia championships in Changsha-Hunan.

ITALY: A LOCK FOR ONE OF THE QUALIFYING HOST SPOTS?

There is news about the Olympic Qualifiers, but so far, no host nations have been announced yet.

We will know that answer on Tuesday, January 19, but according to Italian newspaper outlet Corriere Dello Sport, Torino is already a lock.

It’s no secret that the Italian Basketball Federation made the Olympic Qualifiers a priority ever since Eurobasket 2015. Czech Republic, Philippines, Serbia, Turkey and Germany are also candidates with three countries to be announced on January 19.

The women’s tournament host will also be revealed on January 19, with one venue spot to be determined.

SENEGAL COACHES FUTURE TO BE DECIDED

The future of Moustapha Gaye and Cheick Sarr as head coaches of Senegal’s women’s and men’s team respectively will be decided in the next few weeks.

Both coaches’ contracts expired at the end of their respective continental championships.

Gaye was the mastermind behind Senegal’s Afrobasket Women’s title win last summer, a result that saw them qualify automatically for Rio, while Sarr’s men opened Afrobasket last year with five wins in as many games, but lost to Nigeria in the last four and then fell to hosts Tunisia in the third-place game.

The Senegalese finished fourth, a result which saw them secure a place in the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQTs) as they a bid to return to the Olympics for the first time since 1980.

Senegal coach Moustapha Gaye led the women to Afrobasket Women glory last summer. Will he return to the international fold? Photo: FIBA.

Women:

SOUZA BACK IN THE MIX

After an 18-month hiatus, Erika Souza is back in the Brazil squad for the Rio Olympics.

The host nation will look to put a disappointing 2015 behind them in front of their home crowd with Souza, due to turn 34 in March at the helm.

Brazil coach Antonio Carlos Barbosa said: “Once again Erika has said she is willing to wear the Brazil vest. It is important to point out that she has relinquished other opportunities to play overseas in order to play for the Brazilian national team.”