DESPITE its short buildup time and injury issues, Gilas Pilipinas is ready for its daunting task of challenging the Continent’s top guns in the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Asia Cup in Indonesia.
And right off the bat, the youthful Nationals face Lebanon, a squad largely considered a serious contender, in a major test in the Group D tip-off on Wednesday night at the Istora Senayan in Jakarta.
“They’re raring to go and we hope to be able to have a good game against Lebanon tomorrow (Wednesday night),” Gilas coach Chot Reyes said on CNN Philippines’ Sports Desk ahead of the 8 p.m. encounter (9 p.m. Manila time).
Gilas, a young crew beefed up by Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena, Ray Parks and Poy Erram, has its hands full against the Cedars, whom Mr. Reyes described as “playing the best I’ve seen in years.” Lebanon is led by heady 6-foot-4 point guard Wael Arakji and 6-foot-9 naturalized player Jonathan Arledge.
Mr. Reyes braces for a physical game against the Cedars, whom he said also love to pressure the ball hard and trap.
“We have to prevent their guards from initiating because their entire offense initiates from the guards. Big emphasis for us is to be able to handle, attack and score against their pressure defense because they have three, four guards who have size and can also pressure,” he said.
Gilas was assured of a full roster in the tourney as reserve Rhenz Abando’s entry as the 12th man vice injured Dwight Ramos (shin splints) was approved during Monday’s technical meeting.
The team had a scare as RJ Abarrientos twisted his ankle in a recent practice but Mr. Reyes said from the looks of it, the former FEU guard “might still be able to play.”
After Lebanon, Gilas is set for battle with India and New Zealand, two old rivals from the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, on Friday and Sunday, respectively.
Mr. Reyes said the goal is to get to the Top 8 while continuing the overall preparations for the 2023 World Cup and form the best possible team for the global showpiece on home soil. — Olmin Leyba