Less than a month after its formation, an all-amateur Gilas Pilipinas starts its campaign in the second window of the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers when the Filipinos face Thailand on Friday in a bubble in Manama, Bahrain.
This is the first of two games between the Philippines and Thailand after FIBA approved the final schedule of the qualifying tournament restart after months of delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tasked to call the shots by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) is veteran mentor Jong Uichico, who helped the national team win gold medals twice in the Southeast Asian Games back in 2015 and 2017.
Like in the said biennial meet, Uichico sees this one with the same a tough assignment for the Filipinos considering the quality of opponent they will face and the preparation time they had to prepare.
“They are an experienced and cohesive team. As far as their submitted line up is concerned, they do not have a naturalized player,” said Uichico, a nine-time PBA champion coach.
The game between the Philippines and Thailand is 4 p.m. – 9 p.m. Manila Time.
Thailand, which captured the silver medal in last year’s SEA Games here behind Gilas’ all-pro team coached by Tim Cone, will parade an all-pro squad against the Nationals in the Bahrain bubble.
Although the Thais’ 10-man roster doesn’t include Tyler Lamb, who suited up for UCLA and Long Beach State in the US NCAA, Uichico said he expects a tight match up against Thailand considering the opposing team’s experience playing in international tournaments.
The national team, on the other hand, is made up of collegiate stalwarts.
A total of 15 players are in Bahrain as naturalized prospect Angelo Kouame from Ivory Coast opted to stay in the country.
Uichico said the coaching staff, which also include Gilas Pilipinas men’s basketball Project Director Tab Baldwin and new member Boyet Fernandez, has yet to name the final 12.
“We are still finalizing the final 12 of the national team for the qualifiers,” said Uichico, who has 24 hours before tip off to submit the official roster, or during the managers meeting.
Part of the 15-man pool of the national team are PBA Rookie Draft picks Isaac Go, brothers Matt and Mike Nieto, Rey Suerte and Allyn Bulanadi, who Uichico said is doubtful due to an injury.
Joining them are collegiate stalwarts Kobe Paras, Calvin Oftana, Justin Baltazar, Kenmark Carino, Dave Ildefonso, Will Navarro, Jaydee Tungcab, and Gomez de Liano brothers Juan and Javi.
The national team’s second game against Thailand is on Monday.
South Korea, which opted not to join due to COVID-19, leads Group A with a 2-0 record, followed by the Philippines at 1-0 after beating Indonesia 100-70 in Jakarta last February. Thailand sports 0-1 card and Indonesia 0-2.