Coming off a sweep of its friendlies against two African teams, Gilas Pilipinas left for Malaga, Spain on Thursday night to play in a pocket tournament where it gets a chance to play one of the heavyweights in basketball in world's No.2 Spain.
To get a crack at the Spaniards, the Filipinos must first beat Congo in the four-nation tournament, something which Gilas may find easy to achieve since it will play the same side it handily beat (102-80) in a tuneup a few nights ago in Guadalajara.
The Rio de Janeiro silver medalists take on Ivory Coast in the other pairing, with the Spaniards heavily favored to win even if eyes closed and hands tied.
With Paul Lee and naturalized player Andre Blatche providing the points in the second half, the Filipinos rallied past Ivory Coast, 94-83, on Wednesday to sweep their two-game tuneup series, the first of a 10-day European training the forms part of their buildup for the Fiba World Cup set late this month in China.
If ever they get to meet Spain in the pocket tilt, the Filipinos will be playing a team held in high esteem in world basketball, one that boasts of NBA veterans like Paul Gasol and brother Marc, Rudy Fernandez and Ricky Rubio.
Coach Yeng Guiao is so far very satisfied with the way the Gilas training camp is going as it prepares for the big basketball showpiece in China with basically a nine-man rotation.
“Coach Yeng was pleased with the performance of the team in Guadalajara,” said deputy coach Ryan Gregorio. “He ended his post-game talk (against Ivory Coast) by saying, ’Guys..I don’t like it…I love it.'”
The coaching staff had good words for the Filipinos, who went hot with their long-range shooting and had their pressure defense going.
“We’re knocking down shots from the three at a very high clip,” said Gregorio, noting Gilas Pilipinas fired 8-of-15 from downtown against Ivory Coast, which imposed its size against the Filipinos in the first half.
“Our guards were solid on defense, pressuring all game long and fighting for 50-50 balls,” added Gregorio. “(Mark) Barroca, CJ Perez, Matthew Wright, and (Robert) Bolick never backed down from battle and played with tremendous effort.”
Gilas Pilipinas hopes to get Gabe Norwood back in the active roster after he missed the game against Ivory Coast due to a mild groin strain he hurt in the game against Congo.
The Filipinos open their World Cup campaign against ninth-ranked Italy in one of eight games kicking off the 32-nation, 8-group tournament on August 31 in eight cities around Mainland China. They play world's No. 4 Serbia on Sept. 4 before ending their elimination round stint against Angola two days later.
A lot of observers think the Filipinos stand no chance against the Italians and the Serbians, but are capable of beating the Angolans in the World Cup that marks the second straight time Gilas will see action in the global tournament. After a long absence, the country returned in the tournament in 2013, winning one game and losing thrice.