Minus Kouame, Vucinic puts trust on big men as Gilas fields 11-man roster

Published June 27, 2022, 5:03 PM

by Carlo Anolin

Gilas Pilipinas is fielding an 11-man team for the third window of the 2023 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers beginning Thursday, June 30, as naturalized big man Ange Kouame still had to sit out due to injury.

Gilas Pilipinas (Photo from SBP)

Kiefer Ravena and Dwight Ramos will banner Gilas anew while RJ Abarrientos, SJ Belangel, Geo Chiu, Dave Ildefonso, LeBron Lopez, William Navarro, Carl Tamayo, Rhenz Abando, and Kevin Quiambao complete the cast.

National team head coach Nenad Vucinic admitted that the absence of Kouame, who suffered a meniscal sprain and partial ACL tear, is crucial but remains optimistic with the remaining big men on the roster.

“It’s very hard to replace size but we’re very pleased with how our bigs performed guys like Geo Chiu, Kevin Quiambao, and Carl Tamayo,” said Vucinic in an article posted by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), referring to Gilas’ performance against two friendly matches against Korea recently.

“There are only really three players that are playing a position four and five but also guys like Will Navarro – he played out of position and he’s done well.”

It would be recalled that both Kouame and Ildefonso were expected to miss out on the third window due to respective injuries.

Ildefonso, fortunately, will be able to suit up just in time after nursing an ankle injury.

Vucinic also explained that the team is “in no position to get a new player with a New Zealand visa” as well as calling up a PBA player amid the ongoing Philippine Cup.

“I think we will go with what we have,” added Vucinic. “It’s gonna be a very difficult task obviously going to New Zealand with a limited number of big players but we intend to play hard and hopefully play well.”

Reflecting on Gilas’ back-to-back losses against Korea, Vucinic admitted that the squad struggled on the defensive end sans Kouame, who should be the perfect matchup against former PBA import and Korea’s naturalized player Ra Gun-ah (Ricardo Ratliffe).

READ: Gilas falls short anew vs Korea in friendly; Gilas loses steam as Korea completes comeback win in friendly

“It’s easy to look for excuses but we really have to find a way. I think we did find a way,” said Vucinic.

Gilas takes on New Zealand on Thursday in Auckland and faces India on Sunday, July 3 here in Manila.

The Filipino cagers hold a 1-1 record while Group A leader New Zealand is undefeated in three games while India remains in three matches as well.