Fiba World Cup begins as Gilas battles Dominican Republic
There will be chaos.
It won’t be just the traffic snarl or the frantic search for tickets, parking spaces and the right entryways inside the cavernous Philippine Arena. There will be that huge ball of emotions exploding into a mess of postgame analyses across every platform known to basketball fans by the time the final buzzer ends the game between the Philippines and the Dominican Republic late Friday night, when the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) World Cup finally tips off.
Whether it will be a beautiful chaos or a cacophony will depend on whether or not Gilas Pilipinas can deliver one thing: A perfect game.
That’s what Gilas Pilipinas needs to turn in against a powerful foe.
And that, according to national coach Chot Reyes, is just the minimum requirement.
“[E]ven if we play our best it doesn’t guarantee a win because that’s how strong the other team is,” Reyes said on the eve of the match set at 8 p.m. in the arena that sits by what will be a car-logged expressway in Bocaue, Bulacan province.
“The only thing sure is, if we do not play our best, then we have no chance. That’s the best way to put our approach going into this game,” he added.
The world will have its eyes on the country on Friday as the basketball showcase gets going alongside opening games in cohosts Okinawa in Japan and Jakarta in Indonesia.
There is virtually no title at stake for the Philippines in a sport dominated by powerhouse squads like the United States, Spain and other European heavyweights.
But there is an important prize to play for. The highest finisher of each continent gets a free ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics and the Philippines is in a six-country footrace for Asia’s entry.
And everything starts on Friday with the country fielding its tallest national squad ever (see related story below) and perhaps one of its best in terms of skill.
Reyes hopes the 12 players named to the squad will also be the best team the national program has ever produced, one not overly reliant on Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson, the NBA star who has Filipino roots but was denied a local status by Fiba’s citizenship rules.
“I always like to
: The strength of the pack is the wolf, in the same manner that the strength of the wolf is the pack. It’s not only going to be Jordan. Not Andray (Blatche) before,” Reyes said.
It’s certainly going to take more than just one player to stop the Dominican Republic’s own NBA star, Karl-Anthony Towns.
A three-time NBA All-Star, Towns swiftly made his presence felt upon his return to the Dominican program, starring in the win over the No. 15-ranked Canada and again in the losing stand against defending champion Spain.
“I don’t think it’s physically possible for any single person on our team and perhaps even in the entire World Cup to stop Towns one-on-one. So it’s going to take a village to beat them, to stop him and Dominican, because that’s not a one-man team that we’re playing,” Reyes said.
Bevy of bigs
Clarkson will be fronted by a bevy of bigs ready to give Towns a few worries: Kai Sotto, AJ Edu and two-time World Cup veterans June Mar Fajardo and Japeth Aguilar. And then there are the do-it-all guards in Scottie Thompson and Dwight Ramos. Rhenz Abando and Jamie Malonzo provide Gilas with a lot of athleticism and energy on both ends of the floor, more so on the defensive side.
Interestingly, Domican coach Nestor Garcia is also refusing to fall into the trap of looking at Gilas Pilipinas as a one-man wrecking ball.
“[T]he Philippine team have good shooters, have good IQ, even the big guys,” he said. “We’ll try to adjust.”
Friday’s result will dictate the path the Philippines will take in the tournament. The initial plan is to win two games, which would put Gilas in prime position to contest that Asian slot in the Summer Games next year.
But as Reyes said, depending on the outcomes of matches, the team has prepared several scenarios as it pursues an Olympic appearance in the glitzy French capital.
“We have 6, 7, 8 scenarios planned already because we have to still be playing just in case it comes to [losing],” Reyes said. “And we all know who is the Asian team that might be there in case we have to play them in the second round [because] we might [need to] beat somebody in the second round to get into the Olympics. We’re thinking about that as well.”
By the time Gilas plays, rising power Japan would’ve also started its own quest. The Akatsuki Five will open their campaign against Germany at the posh Okinawa Arena.
“Do we have the goods? Do we have a team [to get the job done?] It’s hard to say. [While] I’m happy with what I have, it’s really hard to say … until we see the actual game,” Reyes said.
“We have to be able to punch above our weight and I think the crowd will be a big determining factor. The most important thing is for us to come in with a very calm, focused, intentional—yet aggressive mindset coming into the World Cup. That’s really the best we can do,” he said.
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