The biggest name of this year’s Fiba World Cup finally landed in Manila on Monday. And Filipinos are all ready for their dose of “Luka Magic.”
Luka Doncic and Slovenia are expected to light up the final phase of the Fiba World Cup after the dashing Dallas Mavericks star came off a splendid showing in the first two rounds in Okinawa, Japan.
With Team USA not reaching for the NBA’s top shelf for superstars to form the team, and with fan-favorite Europeans Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo pulling out for various reason, Doncic is now the highest vote-getting All-Star from last season seeing action in this World Cup.
“Basketball is very popular [in the Philippines], and having Luka on the team makes us more popular,” said Slovenia coach Aleksander Sekulic after practice at Mall of Asia Arena on Monday.
Doncic leads Slovenia against a champion-slaying title favorite on Wednesday at Mall of Asia Arena. Slovenia’s first test in Manila comes against Canada, a squad that also has a lot of star power and even more momentum after ousting defending champion Spain in a thriller of a ballgame in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Slovenia, Canada, Germany and Latvia arrived at Ninoy Aquino International Airport via separate Philippine Airlines chartered flights.
Doncic and Slovenia immediately held practice at the venue of the win-or-go-home part of the tournament, which has had its share of ups and downs in terms of attendance.
Blame it on the absent stars of Team USA and the pullouts of Serbia’s Jokic and Greece’s Antetokounmpo.
Save for its match against Team USA, Greece consistently drew an average crowd of at least 5,600, with the biggest during the final match of its campaign against Montenegro, witnessed by 6,193 people.
More than 11,000 showed up in Greece’s setback to the United States.
Serbia had crowds as high as 7,292 and as low as 2,944 during the group phase.
Both teams, however, had passionate fans in a show of how Europeans go to games in a different way.
But with Doncic in town, the demand for tickets is expected. Even if it loses to Canada, the Slovenia team will still play a classification round fifth to eighth places with a loss to the Canadian side.
Fans of Doncic are so determined to see him in the hopes of either getting a picture or request for some mementos, like most have done during the World Cup, that they have begun inquiries as to where Slovenia will stay while they are here.
One lucky fan was able to have his Doncic Funko Pop toy signed, which he immediately shared on social media.
Also in Manila are Germany, which downed Slovenia in the final group match in Okinawa to enter the quarters unbeaten at 5-0, and Latvia, the surprise quarterfinalist after an unbelievable showing in Jakarta despite missing Kristaps Porzingis.
Germany and Latvia square off in Wednesday’s other game.
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