High hopes for Gilas

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    By Michael Jugado

    GILAS Pilipinas has its immediate focus on Italy, but has an eye out for the rest of the competition in the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

    In fact, no less than head coach Yeng Guiao stressed the need for his team to also keep a close tab on AfroBasket champion Angola if the Filipinos want to shock the world.

    “We cannot take Angola for granted. Even if we win over Italy and we lose to Angola, it would be useless,” Guiao has said following Gilas’ last practice session last Wednesday.

    Gilas opens up its Group D campaign against Italy tomorrow evening before taking on Angola on Monday and Serbia two days later. Said games will all be played at the Foshan International Sports and Cultural Arena in Foshan, China.

    Only the top two teams from each group advance to the next round so Guiao can’t emphasize the importance of his team surprising Italy, ranked 13th by FIBA, and prevailing over Angola to make it through to the next round.

    “Let’s assume we lose to Serbia, so if we’re successful against Italy, we have to win over Angola to make the next round. If you don’t, the Italy win would be useless. We’re not taking Angola for granted. We already have scouting materials against Angola,” Guiao pointed out.

    “As soon as we’re done with Italy, that’s the time we’ll focus on the other teams. Anyway, our defensive schemes that we designed are applicable to most situations. There are situations with Italy, some of their plays and principles are also being applied by Angola. The game plan is transferrable,” he added.

    Guiao is also hoping the lineup he bared last Sunday would get the job done.

    Naturalized big man and nine-year NBA player Andray Blatche, veteran Gabe Norwood, reigning five-time pro league MVP June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, Roger Pogoy, Troy Rosario, Paul Lee, Mark Barroca, and Raymond Almazan lead the Gilas final 12-man roster.

    Also making it to the squad in the Aug. 31 to Sept. 15 spectacle are PBA rookies CJ Perez and Robert Bolick, and the returning Kiefer Ravena.

    Gilas flew out of Manila yesterday morning and arrived in Beijing a few hours later. After another flight of a little over four hours it touched down in Foshan.

    Guiao, 60, is looking forward to relish what he described as the “highlight” of his coaching career and a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity.

    “I’m excited and at the same time feeling some of the pressure already. At the same time, I’m looking forward to just competing against the best in the world. It’s something we can be proud of as Filipinos and for the PBA as a league, that means the league is able to produce players of enough caliber to compete on the world level,” he said.

    “This is not one of the highlights, this is the highlight. This is it. Even if we don’t advance. There are not too many coaches who can say they coached in the World Cup, like this opportunity. You never know also if you’re coming back. You don’t know if next year you’ll still be here or you’ll still have these players. Anything can happen. Today you’re here, tomorrow you might not be here anymore.

    I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and get the most out of it.”

    Guiao added that the chance to clinch an Olympic berth in Tokyo in 2020, which will be given to the top-ranked Asian country, is one of their goals.

    “Just in case China doesn’t make the next round, then we have to compete for the best placing in Asia. We might have a chance for the Olympics. That’s also at the back of our minds,” said Guiao.

    “But as of now, we have very little control of that, because I believe China already has an advantage in reaching that goal, because their group isn’t that tough. But it is still an objective worth pursuing.”

    Just like in previous international jousts, Guiao hopes to get a boost from Filipino fans to cheer for them.

    “There’s a group who prepared and saved up to be in China to watch our games. We’re very thankful to them, that they’ll join us in China to cheer for us. But, of course, they wouldn’t be great in number.

    We will also rely on the prayers of our countrymen,”