Gilas Pilipinas opens its International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Asia Cup campaign with an interesting tussle with defending champion China in their Group B match on Wednesday at the Beirut Nouhad Nawfal Sports Complex in Beirut, Lebanon.
The previous edition’s finalists square off at 6:30 p.m. (Manila time) with the PH 5 facing a daunting task against the perennial title favorite as naturalized player Andray Blatche and center June Mar Fajardo sitting out in the tournament for various reasons.
And head coach Chot Reyes said in order to beat China, they need to have a ‘superior preparation’ in the match.
“We all know that we are overmatched against China when it comes to size and experience. So that’s the only way we can match them. We’re sure they’re preparing as well. Hopefully, we have a superior preparation,” said Reyes in an interview at Sports.tv5.com.
Blatche, who was the team’s top gunner when the Philippines finished second to China in 2015 in Changsa, skipped the tourney due to security issues while Fajardo suffered a strained calf injury a few days before the team left for Beirut.
Without Blatche and Fajardo, 6’8 Filipino-German Christian Standhardinger, Japeth Aguilar and Raymond Almazan will share the load inside the paint against the younger and taller frontline of China.
FIBA Asia’s 2-time Mythical Five member Jayson Castro and Gabe Norwood are back in the PH 5 fold, giving them the experience and leadership.
Also in the roster are Matthew Wright, Japeth Aguilar, Calvin Abueva, Carl Bryan Cruz, RR Pogoy, Terrence Romeo and Jio Jalalon. Abueva and Romeo were also part of the 2015 silver-medal team under Tab Baldwin.
China, to be handled by coach Du Feng, will compete minus its former National Basketball Association (NBA) player Yi Jianlian and NBA prospect Zhou Qi but the team will bank on Guo Ailun, 19-year-old Hu Jinqiu, Ha Dejun and Li Muhao.
The Philippines and China are in Group B along with Qatar and Iraq.
After China, Gilas will play Iraq on Friday at 9 p.m. and Qatar on Sunday at 9 p.m. in the preliminary round.