By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
FACING what could be the biggest games in its current iteration, Gilas Pilipinas is heading into the sixth and final window of the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup (WC) Asian Qualifiers with excitement and determination.
Sporting a 5-5 record in the race for a spot in the global basketball spectacle, good for fourth place, the Philippine national men’s basketball team needs to come up with favorable results in its matches against Qatar and Kazahkstan later this week to give their World Cup push a major boost.
Gilas will be facing already-eliminated Qatar (2-8) in Doha on Feb. 21 while hot-on-its-trail Kazakhstan (4-6) comes next on Feb. 24 in Astana.
Tournament format calls for the top three teams in the two merged groups advancing outright to the FIBA Basketball World Cup in China later this year, with the best fourth-place team advancing, too.
In Group F, ahead of the Philippines are Australia (9-1), Iran (7-3) and Japan (6-4). Australia is the lone team so far from the grouping which has qualified for the World Cup.
Heading into their games this week, Gilas members said they are expecting a tough challenge but nonetheless expressed readiness to see their cause through and bring pride anew for the country.
“Just excited. No distractions right now. We’re all locked in. We’re on the same page of trying to win in the next two games and I think we’re ready,” said Gilas veteran forward Gabe Norwood during their final team practice before they left for Qatar last weekend.
He went on to say that their defeats in the previous window here at home should serve as a reminder for them as they go back to battle.
“We have to remember we are coming off two loses. We must humble ourselves and do not underestimate our opponents more so since we know they will represent their countries and be at their best at home,” he added.
For big men Troy Rosario and Poy Erram, they said there is definitely pressure on the team but they are choosing not to focus too much on it and instead working on their game.
“I’m excited. This type of games is something I really like. It tests you as a player and brings the best out of you,” said Mr. Rosario, who shared that he will continue to wear a mask during the games to protect his previously injured nose.
“The pressure is there but we’re doing our best to prepare ourselves. The coaches, too. are doing their part,” Mr. Erram, for his part, said.
“We need to adjust and pay attention to details. Our fate is in our hands and we must now deliver,” he added.
Apart from Messrs. Norwood, Rosario and Erram, also part of the Yeng Guiao-coached team for the sixth window are naturalized player Andray Blatche, Paul Lee, Mark Barroca, Jayson Castro, Scottie Thompson, Marcio Lassiter, Japeth Aguilar, June Mar Fajardo, Raymond Almazan and Roger Pogoy as well as collegiate standout Thirdy Ravena.