Scottie Thompson and Kai Sotto are back in harness and Gilas Pilipinas is finally at full strength.
But national coach Chot Reyes is well aware that the returning pair have some catching up to do if the Philippines wants to achieve its goal in the Fiba World Cup: Win the two games that could open a path to the Paris Olympics.
And Reyes isn’t hiding where he plans to get those two wins. “A lot of our efforts are really poured into preparing for the Dominican Republic and Angola. Those are the two games we really have to get. But of course, we are still going to talk about Italy,” Reyes said on Tuesday.
The Samahang Basketbol (SBP) ng Pilipinas, in a Philippine Sportswriters’ Association Forum appearance on Tuesday, weighed in on the significance of those two victories.
“Our best World Cup performance was with a win in 2014, against Senegal,” SBP president Al Panlilio said. “We [did not win] anything in [the last World Cup in China]. I’m hoping we can win two games. If we do that, we get to the next round and potentially really play for a spot in the Olympics.”
A ticket to Paris 2024 will be available for the best Asian finisher here, which means a team that gets out of the group stage will have a legitimate shot at skipping tougher qualifiers ahead.
But beating the Dominican Republic and Angola will require a near-flawless performance from Gilas.
The Dominican Republic has named NBA star Karl-Anthony Towns of Minnesota to its squad.
The return of Thompson and Sotto, however, should bump up the Philippines’ chances.
“We’re finally complete. We now have 16 guys in practice,” Reyes said. “Scottie seems OK, but I’m sure both of them are not yet in hundred percent basketball competitive shape,” he went on. “Hopefully, we have 10 days to be able to make up for that.”
Toughest group foe
Justin Brownlee, who will yield the naturalized player’s spot to Jordan Clarkson for the World Cup, said having a big man like AJ Edu also helps the Filipinos’ cause against the Towns-led Caribbean country.
“AJ has shown a great potential, but I guess we have to wait and see. I am very confident in him going against anybody though,” Brownlee said. “He’s proven that he’s a great competitor and that he will do anything to win.”
Gilas Pilipinas is also bunched with powerhouse Italy in the group stage. The world No. 10 Italians have been red-hot in their five preparatory games so far.
“We saw they released their final 12 (on Monday) so we’re already in the process of compiling and breaking down the individual profiles,” Reyes said. “We know a lot about those players—Luigi Datome, Nicolo Melli, and of course Simone Fontecchio, who plays in the NBA. That’s a very strong team [and] that’s something we obviously have to take a good, hard, long look at. “Fortunately, they (Italians) are our third game,” he added.
Clarkson, the Utah Jazz star in the NBA, will carry the brunt of Gilas’ load—and this basketball-crazed nation’s dreams.
“[He] definitely [provides] renewed energy in practice,” Reyes said. “Not that we don’t have very energetic practices. We’ve always had very high-energy, high-quality practices, but obviously, the arrival of Jordan put an added layer into that. I’m very happy.”
With 10 days to go before the tournament opens, Reyes refused to gauge the team’s readiness.
“I have long thrown a scale away, because there was a plan. There was a very detailed plan that was in place, but a lot of things happened as we all know. And like I’ve said over and over, this has been an exercise really in adaptability and resilience and agility more than anything else,” he said. —WITH REPORTS FROM LANCE AGCAOILI, ANGEL B. DUKHA III
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