The Slovenian coach of the powerhouse Iran team cited the Philippines as among the teams he has to worry about as he arrived yesterday cautious but brimming with confidence.
"We are going to win the title but five or six other teams want to do that," said coach Memi Becirovic. "Teams such as South Korea and the Philippines are dangerous as well as China."
Iran's stature as the likely champion rose after the team captured the Jones Cup a few weeks ago, the same event where the Philippines, the defending champion, was not allowed to compete owing to a recent sea dispute with Taiwan.
Becirovic is not only proud of his team, but by inference also proud of himself, saying that he is coach of the best Asian team.
"We won Williams Jones Cup last month and it shows that we are on the right track," the 52-year-old Becirovic said.
The FIBA Asia championship begins on Thursday at the Mall of Asia where 15 teams will be vying for three slots for the World Championships to be held in Spain next year.
In the FIBA webpage, the Slovenian coach said he has high regard for his team to capture the championship
"I believe in my team and without a doubt I am coach of the best Asian team in the competition."
His boast carry some water. He coached his own country to an 8th place finish in the World Championship three years ago in Turkey and the Jones Cup was the second title of Iran under Becirovic as they also reigned supreme in the 4th FIBA Asia Cup in Tokyo. The win gave them an automatic slot to the tournament.
Still, redemption will be on top of Iran's agenda which will be without NBA-bound 23-year-old Arsalan Kazemi. The team did not reach the final four after a shock loss to Jordan in the quarterfinal in Wuhan, China two years ago.
Even without the 6-foot-7 Kazemi who averaged 23 points the last time, Iran remains a formidable force due to the presence of 7-foot-2 Hamed Haddadi, prolific forward Samad Nikkhah Bahrami and point guard Mahdi Kamrani.
While he's confident of their chances, Becirovic picked South Korea, Gilas Pilipinas and China as the teams that may give them big problem.
The team will also have veterans Hamed Afagh, Asghar Kardoust, Aren Davoudi and Oshin Sahakian.
Iran is bracketed in Group C with South Korea and China. Malaysia will be the bracket's punching bag.