February 25, 2018, 5:55 am
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Gilas battles Japanese 5 in Tokyo

GILAS Pilipinas launches what could be a long and winding road in its bid to qualify anew for the World Cup when it clashes with Japan today in the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers before an expected hostile crowd at the Komazawa Olympic Park Gym in Tokyo.

Coach Chot Reyes yesterday bared the Nationals’ 12-man roster against the Japanese, with naturalized player Andray Blatche, reigning four-time PBA MVP Junemar Fajardo, and Jason Castro leading the team.

Completing the roster are veterans Gabe Norwood, Japeth Aguilar, Calvin Abueva, Allein Maliksi, and young guns Matthew Wright, Troy Rosario, Roger Pogoy, Kevin Alas, and Kiefer Ravena.

Raymond Almazan, who is nursing a sprained ankle he suffered days before Gilas left for Tokyo; Carl Bryan Cruz, and Mac Belo are the final cuts in the 15-man training pool.

Prolific scorer Terrence Romeo failed to join the Gilas quintet in Tokyo due to an injury.

The 6-foot-11 Blatche arrived in the Philippines last Sunday while the team made it to Tokyo last Tuesday.

The game is set at 6 p.m. with the Filipinos out to score a big win and get their bid for a return trip to the World Cup going three years after ending a 36-year drought with a victory over Senegal in 2014 in Seville, Spain.

Gilas beat the Japanese twice in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championships in Changsha, China, scoring a 73-66 victory in the second round and following it up with an 81-70 triumph in the semis.

The Philippines is ranked No. 5 in Asia and 30th in the world. Japan is No. 8 in Asia and 50th in the world.

Six-foot-3 gunner Makoto Hiejima is doubtful for the Japanese. In case he sits out, Japan will lean on Taketoshi Furukawa, Daiki Tanaka, 6-foot-9 Kosuke Takeuchi, and naturalized player Ira Brown.

Under the new home-and-way format, national teams can field in different line-ups for each game.

“This is just the 12-man roster for tomorrow’s game. For Taiwan, it would be different. Every game could change,” Reyes told online sports portal Spin.ph. “I just want to tell everybody that we came here as a 15-man team. Those three guys not playing tomorrow doesn’t mean they’re not part of the team.

“They’re still very much part of the team, entitled to everything and all the privileges that everybody else has,” he added.

Gilas will return to Manila after its match against Japan and hosts Chinese-Taipei on Monday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. – Michael Jugado
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