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For Hill, a World Cup return to Manila was long time coming

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra directs his team from courtside during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Friday, March 10, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

The path for USA Basketball this summer on its way to the FIBA World Cup is set: from Las Vegas to Spain to Abu Dhabi to the Philippines.

That’s a long journey. In Grant Hill’s case, taking the long way to Manila is symbolic, because his history with the Philippines started about three decades ago.

Hill — now the managing director for USA Basketball’s men’s national team — went to the basketball-crazed country in the mid-1990s and knows how big the sport is there. Then a star for the Detroit Pistons, Hill was there to promote a shoe company; 30,000 people showed up to see him at a mall, his hotel needed special security and he still has a photograph showing him with one of his dining companions, former President Corazon Aquino.

“The thing that was amazing was that she was an avid basketball fan,” Hill said Monday. “So, she knew about Detroit. She knew the Pistons. I mean, it was absolutely incredible. I just think the fans and the passion and the love of the game will be on full display this upcoming summer, much like it was — or more than it was — back in the mid-1990s.”

He’s not wrong. While some teams have to play World Cup games in Indonesia and Japan, the Americans won’t leave Manila — and that’s by design. The host nations for the World Cup got to pick a preferred team to have for the group stage; Japan took Slovenia, Indonesia chose Canada and the Philippines chose the U.S., no surprise given how the Americans will have 12 NBA stars on their roster and how Filipino-American Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat is an assistant coach under Steve Kerr for USA Basketball.

“You know, obviously we want our players to see Manila in the Philippines and be able to be there — not just to play basketball but to learn something about the country, its history, its culture,” Hill said. “We want to be accessible, but we also have a job to do.”

There’s another job to do first, that being picking the World Cup roster. And those talks with players and agents are intensifying, with Hill saying he hopes to be able to formally say which 12 players will be going to the Philippines by June or early July.

Training camp is set to start in early August, with an exhibition in Las Vegas, followed by warmup games in Spain on the Aug. 11-13 weekend and more games in Abu Dhabi the following weekend. The actual World Cup — which could qualify the U.S. for the 2024 Paris Olympics — starts on Aug. 25.

“We’ve had some great dialogue throughout this past season, probably going back to the beginning of the season, with some players that we’ve targeted,” Hill said. “Players have been very, very receptive. I think in recent weeks, we’ve started to intensify that and looking to really get some momentum there and some commitments, possibly, here in the stretch run going into the playoffs.”

The U.S. will learn its World Cup draw and game schedule on April 29.

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