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Reyes says hosting World Cup is "like the Pope coming to Manila"

Philippines basketball national team coach Chot Reyes. (Photo: FIBA)

MANILA, December 12, 2017 - There was not a happier man in Switzerland on Saturday than Philippines coach Chot Reyes following the announcement that the joint bid of his country, along with Japan and Indonesia, to host the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 had been successful.

Reyes, who led Gilas to a runners-up finish at the FIBA Asia Cup 2013 and then to an impressive appearance at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2014 in Seville, Spain, experienced another high of being at a ceremony where the Philippines learned it would be a host nation of the sport's biggest competition for the first time since 1978.

"We're very, very happy," Reyes said. "We will have the world's best basketball players, some of the world's best athletes coming to Manila and we're very excited. We can't be any prouder."

It was important for the Philippines to host the FIBA Asia Cup four years ago and also one of the three FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQTs) last year. Their fans had a chance to see some of the best players in the world.

Yet, to welcome the FIBA Basketball World Cup to its shores is a far greater honor, and challenge. The sport is number one in the country and this is only going to make it even more popular.

"It's like the Pope coming to Manila (Reyes laughs)," he said. "When the Pope came down a couple of years back, we had about 6 million people lining out on the streets under the heat of the sun and under heavy rain.

"Like we always say, in the Philippines basketball is a religion and so there are a lot of believers, a lot of followers. For the sport's biggest competition to come to our country is really special for us."

The Philippines weren't the hosts in 2014 but it sure seemed like they had a home court advantage.

It's also the first time that a World Cup will be multi-hosted, something that has been a huge success at the last couple of FIBA EuroBaskets, FIBA AmeriCup 2017 and FIBA AfroBasket 2017.

"I think the cooperation with Japan and Indonesia has been unbelievable," Reyes said. "They're as much a part of this as we are in the Philippines. A lot of preparation and effort went into the bid. Now, the real work begins. We have to come together to make sure that we're able to host and conduct a really great tournament.

"It's the first time a FIBA Basketball World Cup will take place in more than one country. That's why it makes it all the more special for us. It's historic on so many levels."

It speaks to the evolution of sport of basketball, three different countries coming together with a combined population of 500 million people, it's going to be really special. It's going to be really nice to be a part of something as historic as this on our end.

The national team has been at the front of Reyes' thoughts all year. He coached the team at the FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon and just last month held the reins when the Philippines won their first two games in FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers for the first-ever 32-team event to be played in China from August 31-September 15, 2019.

Gilas won 77-71 at Japan and then returned home and ground out a 90-83victory over a very determined, upset-minded Chinese Taipei.

"Obviously it was a very good experience for us because we managed to win those first two games. It was very special that we were able to pull off two difficult victories so it was a good start, but it's still a long ways off, just step one," Reyes said.

"Obviously the fans in the Philippines were fantastic but the crowd in Tokyo was a great crowd as well, very enthusiastic, so this being the first time, something new, the feedback and the reaction of the audience was more than anyone could expect not only the teams but even for FIBA. It augurs very well for the future."

Gilas play at Australia in Melbourne on February 22 before returning home to host Japan three days later. The Filipinos will then play at Chinese Taipei on June 29 before hosting Australia on July 2.

"On our end, we know that we are going to be facing tougher opposition, we'll have Australia coming up and other teams, but as long as we have our fans coming in, its a big boost for us," Reyes said.

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