IT MAY be a steep and rocky mountain to climb but Gilas Pilipinas is unfazed by the challenge as it braces for battle against the Dominican Republic, Angola and Italy in Group A of the fast-approaching FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023.

Head coach Chot Reyes said the blueprint has been laid down as the battlelines are drawn and it’s on the ardent RP Five to perfect it in the final 10 days of preparation — amidst all the delay and adversity in assembling its battalion — for the 32-team world basketball extravaganza on Aug. 25 to Sept. 10 here.

The first order of business is to get ready against the world No. 23 Dominican Republic and No. 41 Angola, considered as Gilas’ closest shots, with No. 10 Italy serving as the group’s yardstick and team to beat — if the No. 40 Gilas wishes to advance to the next round and come close to its Olympic hopes.

“Italy is Italy. We all know the quality of that team. Fortunately, they are our third game. So right now, our concern is the Dominican Republic. A lot of our efforts are really poured into preparing for the Dominican Republic and Angola,” said Mr. Reyes.

“Our focus really is the Dominican Republic and Angola because those are the two games we really have to get.”

Gilas takes on the Dominican Republic on Aug. 25 at the 55,000-seater Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan, where the country will also attempt to erase the FIBA gate attendance record of 32,616 fans in 1994 Toronto games.

Games then shift to the iconic Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City with Gilas clashing against Angola on Aug. 27 before wrapping its group play campaign against Italy on Aug. 29.

Italy just released its Final 12 roster the other day led by Jordan Clarkson’s teammate Simone Fontecchio of the Utaz Jazz with former NBA players Luigi Datome and Nicolo Melli, who are also former NBA players.

Three-time NBA All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves has also joined the training camp of the Dominican Republic in Spain as Angola, led by Atlanta Hawks center Bruno Fernando, is in the thick of preparations in Japan.

Gilas made sure to prepare for these teams with camps in Europe as a simulation against Italy and in China against Senegal as a gauge for Angola. Gilas will play more European and African teams in Montenegro and Ivory Coast here at home before its last friendly against Mexico, a South American blueprint for the Dominican Republic.

The tune-up matches will also serve as the final basis for the coaching staff, including deputies Jong Uichico and Tim Cone, to determine the Gilas final 12 from the 16 players left, in the managers’ meeting on Aug. 23.

“I know a lot of people would have wanted to have an earlier announcement of the lineup or selection. But then again, it’s just two days ago that we are completed. I hope you can imagine, you can understand the delay that we are experiencing,” said Mr. Reyes as Kai Sotto and Scottie Thompson rejoined training to complete Gilas’ 16-man pool led by Filipino-American NBA ace Jordan Clarkson. — John Bryan Ulanday