Gilas faces China in practice game before Belgrade OQT

Published June 22, 2021, 3:59 PM

by Waylon Galvez

Kai Sotto (FIBA photo)

Gilas Pilipinas and China play in a tune-up game on Wednesday, June 23 at the Angeles University Foundation Gym in what could be more than a “friendly” match between fierce rivals ahead of their Olympic qualifying campaigns next week.

This is the first time that Gilas is meeting China in three years after the Filipinos nearly scored an upset against the continental giants during the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.

While the match set at 4:30 p.m. is expected to be a war from start to finish, it is deemed by some as mutually beneficial to the two countries considering the ongoing dispute on the West Philippine Sea.

Arranged by both the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas and the Chinese Basketball Association, the game is part of preparation of the two teams as they compete in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT).

Gilas will fly to Belgrade on Thursday to face the host nation Serbia and the Dominican Republic in Group A.

The top two teams will advance in the crossover semifinal against the top two of Group B, which has Puerto Rico, Italy and Senegal. The top team in the Belgrade OQT will advance to the Tokyo Olympics.

Gilas coach Tab Baldwin said playing China is crucial to their preparation as it provides additional experience to the young squad that is on a high after sweeping its assignments in the third and final window of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers last week.

“Our plans before that are to have some practices here in the Philippines before we fly out,” said Baldwin. “We’re very hopeful that we might get a practice game against China, who is also staying here before they go to Canada for more preparations for themselves.”

“China’s an elite Asian team. So if we get a chance to play against them, that’ll be great for us.”

“Every game that we can get for these young men is extremely important. It’ll help us prepare (for the OQT),” said Baldwin, who is bringing the same team that stood tall and confident to Belgrade.

The young Gilas squad of Baldwin –led by Kai Sotto, Dwight Ramos, Carl Tamayo, naturalized player Ange Kouame and SJ Belangel – is coming off an impressive campaign in the Asia Cup Qualifiers where it swept all three games to top Group A with a 6-0 record.

The national team twice defeated the heavily favored Koreans, 81-78 last Wednesday and 82-77 last Sunday. Gilas also defeated Indonesia of former Smart Gilas coach Rajko Toroman, 76-51, last Friday.

China also topped its own bracket with a 4-0 record in Group B, beating Japan and Taipei twice.

When the two teams faced off in the Asian Games in Jakarta, the Rain or Shine-backed Philippine squad of coach Yeng Guiao almost scored a stunning win in front of China’s NBA legend Yao Ming.

Jordan Clarkson, who now plays for the Utah Jazz, made his Gilas debut with 28 points but Paul Lee missed a potential game-winner at the buzzer that gave the Chinese team a sigh of relief with an 82-80 escape over the resilient Gilas.

China went on to win the gold medal, while Iran settled for the silver medal and South Korea took the bronze medal. 

China is also playing in the OQT in Canada against the host and Greece in Group A, while in Group B are Uruguay, Czech Republic and Turkey. The top two teams from each group will advance in the crossover semifinals, and the winners play in the one-game final for the right to earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympics.

Eight teams are already assured of slots in the Tokyo Olympics, which include host Japan, USA, Argentina, Nigeria, Iran, France, Spain and Australia. The remaining four slots will come from the four OQTs – Serbia, Canada, Lithuania and Croatia.