GILAS Pilipinas left for Serbia on Thursday to compete at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) where it expects to encounter a tall order.
The Philippine national men’s basketball team will be one of six nation-teams vying for the lone slot up for grabs in Belgrade for the Tokyo Olympic Games next month.
The all-cadet Gilas crew is coming off a successful tour of duty in the third and final window of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Asia Cup Qualifiers in Clark, Pampanga, where it went unscathed in three games to complete a sweep of the six matches of the Philippines in the tournament.
While happy with the team’s performance in the Asia Cup Qualifiers, Gilas coach Tab Baldwin said the FIBA OQT will be a totally different challenge for the young team.
They are tempering their expectations in the tournament happening from June 29 to July 4, but that they are not short in desire to compete and learn from the experience over there.
For the OQT, Tab Baldwin-coached Gilas brought a 12-man roster composed of Dwight Ramos, Justine Baltazar, SJ Belangel, RJ Abarrientos, Will Navarro, Angelo Kouame, Mike Nieto, Isaac Go, Jordan Heading, Carl Tamayo, Geo Chiu and Kai Sotto.
Cut from the team for the tournament were Javi Gomez de Liano, Jaydee Tungcab and Lebron Lopez.
The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas shared that the team composition was arrived at so as to have a taller lineup “with emphasis on frontline height and length” to better compete against the bigger teams in the OQT.
Gilas is in Group A along with host Serbia and the Dominican Republic.
As per the official FIBA website, Serbia is set to parade a team peppered with National Basketball Association players.
They include Bogdan Bogdanovic (Atlanta), Nemanja Bjelica (Miami) and Boban Marjanovic (Dallas).
The Dominican Republic, meanwhile, will have staples Michael Torres Cuevas, Gelvis Solano, Sadiel Rojas and Victor Liz.
Group B has Italy, Portugal and Senegal.
The Philippines will play Serbia on June 30 and the Dominican Republic on July 1.
The top two teams from each group advance to the crossover semifinals where the winners battle for the Olympic spot in the finals.
Prior to leaving for Serbia, Gilas played the Chinese national team, which is also playing in an OQT in Canada, in a tune-up game on Wednesday.
The two teams played to a 79-all draw.
Mr. Sotto led the way for Gilas with 13 points, followed by Messrs. Kouame and Heading with 12 apiece.
Messrs. Ramos and Tamayo sat out because of injuries. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo