Carrying the best wishes and ardent prayers of a nation where its players are treated like rock stars, the Gilas Pilipinas team leaves for Guangzhou, Foshan, China today to compete for the second straight time in the Fiba World Cup in a campaign which many think would be a mission impossible.
Coached by the veteran Yeng Guiao, the 12-man squad bannered by naturalized player Andre Blatche will be playing against two heavyweights and an African champion in their side of the eliminations of the 32-nation, eight-group tournament which kicks off in eight cities on Saturday.
Speaking before sportswriters at the PSA Sports Forum on Tuesday, Guiao said the team is ready to trade fire with world titans Serbia and Italy and African powerhouse Angola in the biggest basketball showpiece where the country won once and lost thrice in its return to the cagefest in Spain in 2014.
“They’re ready. We know how tough it is but rest assured that we’ll be giving our best shot everytime we set foot on the playing court,” said Guiao.“Mahirap talaga na manalo. But this basketball and anything can happen”.
The Filipinos open their bid at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against Italy, a team that’s so strong that even President Duterte had raised the white flag even before the final PH team lineup could be made.
In a speech before businessmen several weeks ago at Malacanang, the President said we don’t stand a chance against the Italians.
“Wala, talo tayo, walang laban. Sa China na lang tayo magpusta,” Duterte said. “We will lose sa Italy. Ang lalaki kaya ng mga gag*ng ‘yan.”
The President probably knows his basketball, or someone who looked like Senator Bong Go had whispered to him that Italy is a team spearheaded by a pair of NBA players in Marco Bellineli of the San Antonio Spurs and Danilo Galinari of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
More troubles, more challenges are in store of the Filipinos on Sept. 2.
It’s because they’re up against Serbia, ranked No, 4 in the world and powered by Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic plus a bevy of NBA players. In fact, the Serbians are rated the biggest threat for defending champion United States.
Two days later, the Filipinos conclude their elimination round stint against Angola, the No. 1 from the African continent and one which has proven time and again that it’s a team that is can’t be taken for granted.
But for Mr. Duterte, the Filipinos can beat the Angolans easily.
“Angola ito pwede natin ilibing ng buhay,” the President told his audience in the same Palace gathering.
Guiao admitted the chances of beating Serbia is very slim.That’s is why he and his assistant coaches are putting most of their energy on mapping out a game plan against Italy and Angola.
“Ang plano kasi natin, ‘yung chance sa Serbia, medyo mas maliit kesa chances natin sa Italy. So our focus, resources, time, scouting, we focus it on the team where we have a greater percentage of winning,” Yeng said at the Sports Forum.
“Kasi kahit matalo tayo sa Serbia, kung manalo tayo sa Italy at tinalo natin Angola, okay tayo,” Guiao added.
Guiao made it clear they have already studied Serbia and Angola as part of their build-up for the World Cup especially with the short preparation time the team will have during the tournament proper.
“We’ve talked about Serbia already but we haven’t put in a scheme. Kasi if we are going to talk about Serbia and Jokic and we haven’t played Italy yet, we haven’t done our focusing on Italy yet. It might be better use of our energy and time to first focus on Italy,” said Guiao.
“The time we have to focus there is very short. In between the games is one day so that’s the time to get prepared for the next game. We have scouted them, we have broken down their videos, so the players can adjust,” said Guiao.
The team: Andre Blatche, Roger Pogoy, Troy Rosario, CJ Perez, Gabe Norwood, Robert Bolick, June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, Paul Lee, Mark Barroca, Raymund Almazan and Kiefer Ravena.