By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE WORK is cut out for Gilas Pilipinas when it plunges back into action away in the sixth and final window of the FIBA Basketball World Cup Asian Qualifiers later this week.
Currently at fourth place in the merged Group F with a 5-5 record, Philippine Basketball Association-backed Gilas needs to come up with favorable results in its matches against Qatar and Kazahkstan to give their World Cup push a major boost.
Bannering the Yeng Guiao-coached team this time around are naturalized player Andray Blatche, Paul Lee, Mark Barroca, Jayson Castro, Scottie Thompson, Marcio Lassiter, Gabe Norwood, Troy Rosario, Japeth Aguilar, JP Erram, June Mar Fajardo, Raymond Almazan, and Roger Pogoy.
Collegiate standout Thirdy Ravena was also added to the team for the sixth window.
Gilas left for Qatar last Saturday.
Recognizing how crucial the sixth window of the tournament is for their cause, Mr. Guiao said they would buckle down to work as game time approaches to come up with the best possible performance and get their desired results.
“Tomorrow we fly out in the morning. We will be joined by Andray in Qatar. The next day we will start practicing twice a day until game time. Game time against Qatar is on the 21st,” said Mr. Guiao following their lone tune-up game against the Meralco Bolts on Friday, a day before they left for the tournament.
“We hope that we would be able to make up for the lack of time together we had here (Manila) in Qatar. Twenty-four hours we will be together there. We will take full advantage of that. We will watch the videos, scout our opponents and we will give our best on the 21st and 24th,” added the coach, whose wards take on Kazakhstan on Feb. 24.
Mr. Blatche makes his return to action after serving his FIBA suspension for his involvement in the infamous Philippines-Australia brawl in the third window of the qualifiers in Bulacan in July.
It is something that Mr. Guiao is looking forward to even if they had a limited time to practice with Mr. Blatche here early this month.
“Even without Andray, we’ve seen the guys are blending well. We played good defense today. We’re still hoping we can improve on our defense and be able to translate or apply the things we have practiced in the window against Qatar and Kazakhstan,” Mr. Guiao said.
“I’m happy with this group of guys. They have shown their commitment and abilities and I’m happy with the form of Andray Blatche. He’s game-ready. He loves his teammates and that’s a good foundation to have,” he added.
The national team coach further said that going to Qatar they are about 80 percent in form but expecting to improve on it come tip-off.