GILAS Pilipinas will begin its campaign in the 2014 Federation Inter national Basketball Association (FIBA) World Cup by battling the tough Croatian squad in Group B today at the 7,127-seater Palacio Municipal de Deportes in Seville, Spain. The tournament runs from August 30 until September 14.
After more than a month of preparation, the Philippine squad headed by skipper Jimmy Alapag and naturalized former Brooklyn Nets center Andray Blatche will face the Croatians at 6:30 p.m. (Manila time). Gilas arrived in Seville on Friday after participating in series tune-up tournaments in France and Spain.
This will be the first time since 1978 that the Philippine national basketball team will see action in the FIBA World Championship.
In the preliminary group stage, Gilas Pilipinas with a FIBA rank of no.34, earned a slot in the world championship after finishing second behind Iran in the 2013 FIBA-Asia Championship in Manila. After Croatia, the Philippines will next face Greece on August 31, then Argentina on September 1, Puerto Rico on September 3 and Senegal on September 4.
Besides Alapag and Blatche, the other member of the Philippine team are June
Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, Ranidel De Ocampo, Jean Marc Pingris, Gabe Norwood, Jeffrei Chan, Gary David, Lewis Alfred “L.A.” Tenorio, Paul Dalistan Lee and newcomer Jayson William who replaced the injured Larry Fonacier.
Meanwhile, host Spain and the rest of the field must believe they finally have a decent shot at knocking off the mighty United States.
The US were clearly the better team at the 2012 Olympics when LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and company knocked off Spain in the final in London.
But at the 2014 World Cup, Spain bring back almost their entire team and are dying to get some revenge against an under-manned US team.
None of that Olympic trio is back for the Americans, who have not lost in their runs to the titles at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and the 2010 World Championship.
James and Bryant were not expected to play in Spain but the Oklahoma City superstar Durant pulled out of the team just three weeks before the start, citing exhaustion.
In addition to Paul George – who like Durant was expected to start for the Americans in Spain until the Indiana Pacers star broke his leg – US coach Mike Krzyzewski also has seen stars like Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard all withdraw for a variety of reasons.
While Krzyzewski still has great players like Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving, it’s a US team that is much weaker than past squads.
And Spain have a motivated group which includes brothers Pau and Marc Gasol as well as fellow NBA stalwarts Serge Ibaka, Jose Calderon and Ricky Rubio, not to mention Euroleague stars Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Rodriguez, Sergio Llull and an ageing but still dangerous Juan Carlos Navarro.
Because of the format of the tournament, Spain and the United States cannot meet until the final – or the third place game – both of which will take place in Madrid.
Spain are drawn into Group A in Granada which also includes 2013 European champions France, Serbia, Brazil, Iran and Egypt—with the teams playing each other in round robin fashion of five games in six days.
The top four teams in each of the four groups advance to the Round of 16.
In the knock-out stages in Madrid, Group A’s teams will face the four top sides from Group B, which has Argentina, Croatia, Greece, Philippines, Puerto Rico and Senegal in Sevilla.
Barcelona will host the knock-out stages for the teams in Groups C – United States, Dominican Republic, Finland, New Zealand, Turkey and Ukraine in Bilbao – and D – Angola, Australia, South Korea, Lithuania, Mexico and Slovenia in Gran Canaria.
None of the teams from Groups A and B can face nations from Groups C and D until the final or third place game.
In addition to the United States and Spain, another contender as of earlier this week was Lithuania. But the 2013 European Championship runners-up saw leading point guard Mantas Kalnietis break his collarbone in the team’s final warm-up game, ruling him out of the full competition.
Among the other challengers will be France, who will be missing 2013 EuroBasket MVP Tony Parker; Croatia, who took fourth last summer in Europe; perennial European powers Greece and Serbia; South Americans Brazil and Argentina; as well as Australia.