At the weekend Gilas Pilipinas and the entire nation finally got to know where the country will begin its FIBA Basketball World Cup campaign later this year after the official draw was made in Shenzhen, China.
Following the star-studded draw, attended by the likes of Kobe Bryant, Yao Ming and officials of the participating teams, it was known that the Philippines will play in Group D of the competition, along with Serbia, Italy and Angola.
Initially Gilas will try to end up in the top two of its grouping to advance to the next round of the tournament and hopefully continue humming after to go deeper.
The draw drew a mixed reactions from Filipino hoops fans, with some welcoming it as the Philippines having a better chance early while others leaving Gilas for doom, seeing the team as having no chance outright and was better off being grouped in a more “favorable” bunch.
For this space, I totally disagree with the latter sentiment, believing that at the World Cup there is no easy road regardless of where you end up.
At this stage you have 31 other teams which deserve to be in the tournament and would go all out to see their respective causes through.
It does not matter what one’s ranking in FIBA is, it is all about getting the wins right then there and delivering. Win or go home. Plain and simple.
I do believe, however, it could have been worse for Gilas, this notwithstanding that in Serbia (4th), Italy (13th) and Angola (39th) we already have our hands full.
The Serbians will be a tall order for us, both literally and figuratively.
Against them we may be up against National Basketball Association stalwarts Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets, Boban Marjanovic of the Philadelphia Sixers, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nemnaja Bjelica of the Sacramento Kings, among others.
Serbia has been a force in global hoops of late, finishing runner-up in the last edition of the World Cup in 2014 in Spain and in the 2016 Rio Olympics apart from creating major waves in European basketball.
Italy is not doing bad either, banking on a good mix of young and veteran players.
The Azzurri could also feature veteran NBA campaigners in Danilo Gallinari (Los Angeles Clippers) and Marco Bellinelli (San Antonio Spurs) at the World Cup, providing a sure-fire tough challenge for the Philippines.
Angola, for its part, is not shabby as well despite Gilas up several rungs over it in the world rankings.
The Angolans were steady in the qualifiers with solid personnel with the likes of Yanick Moreira and Carlos Morais, leaving their spot in the World Cup spot sans any doubt.
Facing another tough road at the World Cup, it is primary for Gilas to really come in prepared for the competition.
Coach Yeng Guiao said that they intend to start preparations early, which is the way to go about it really.
They should also test their mettle against international competitions in the lead-up, maybe in the form of tune-up matches and not confine themselves training among themselves.
Composition is key as well. It does not have to be an “All-Star” roster but made up of players who can play in synch together on both ends.
If we can squeeze in enough height in the team without compromising balance the better considering the competition we will have.
Andray Blatche as naturalized player was splendid in our salvage job in the qualifiers and if he can keep such form or even improve on it the better for us if ever he is called up anew.
The possibility of maybe having the likes of Filipino-American NBA player Jordan Clarkson and US collegiate player Remy Martin should also be looked at as well if they could help in the final makeup of the squad.
While the road for us in the World Cup is anything but easy, that should not deter us from going for it. All to gain and nothing to lose if you are to look at it. Laban lang Pilipinas!
Michael Angelo S. Murillo has been a columnist since 2003. He is a BusinessWorld reporter covering the Sports beat.