That’s basically the overwhelming thought about Gilas Pilipinas’ second straight appearance in the FIBA World Cup.
The Nationals take on an Italian team they have not played for over four decades in a Group D game in Foshan, an urban city in Central Guangdong province which is one of eight cities hosting the elimination round stage of the 32-nation, eight-group basketball showcase.
The Gilas coaching staff led by Yeng Guiao knows well the daunting task awaiting the Nationals in the tournament where they won once and lost thrice in their return in 2014 in Seville, Spain.
“I’m looking forward to just competing against the best in the world. It’s almost unbelievable to say that,” said Guiao ahead of the Nationals’ 7:30 p.m. encounter with Italy at the Foshan International Sports and Cultural Arena.
How can Guiao not say those things when they have to tackle right in their first assignment in the preliminaries an Italian team backstopped by Danilo Galinari and Marco Belinelli.
And who are Belinelli and Gallinari?
Belinelli is a member of the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA who was selected 18th overall in the 2007 NBA draft by the Golden State Warriors. In 2014, he won the NBA championship with the San Antonio Spurs, becoming the first Italian player to do so.
Gallinari, on the other hand, is a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder who was drafted sixth overall in the 2008 NBA draft by the New York Knicks. He played with the Knicks for two and a half seasons before being traded to the Denver Nuggets in 2011. In 2017, he was acquired by the Clippers.
Belinelli, at 6’5”, is a three-point hotshot who won an NBA championship in 2014 with the Spurs. Gallineri stands 6’10” who is also a reliable inside and outside player. And there are other topnotch players in the Italian side.
Nevertheless, Guiao is thankful for the opportunity given them in the World Cup.
“It’s also something we can be proud of as Filipinos and for the PBA as a league because the league is able to produce players of caliber who can compete at the world level,” said Guiao.
Gilas are looking for an upset to bolster their chances of making the second round.
Guiao admits it’s almost impossible for them to beat Serbia on Sept 2, hence they are hoping to pull off a reversal right away today, and win over Angola on Sept 4.
Technically, Guiao believes they would have a chance to win if they could make their outside shots.
With a decent shooting, the Nationals won four friendlies, including twice against Ivory Coast in Spain and one against the Adelaide 36ers at home.
The Italians have the edge in size and they have their shooters led no less by Belinelli, the NBA three-point shootout champ in 2014.
But the Italians didn’t fare well in friendlies, dropping matches against Russia, Greece, Serbia, Turkey, New Zealand and France.
One thing for sure about Team Ph, they are highly motivated.
“(We have) same motivation as last time: We want to go out and prove to the world that we belong,” Gilas skipper Gabe Norwood said.
“We’re the underdogs but it’s like it’s okay. It’s great to shock people,” said naturalized player Andray Blatche. “Our main focus is to get two wins. Last time we got one, this time get two wins and advance.”