Gilas battles rugged Tall Blacks

Published June 30, 2022, 10:47 AM

by Reynald I. Magallon

The shorthanded and youth-laden Gilas Pilipinas men’s senior team faces a tall order when it tackles New Zealand on Thursday, June 30, in the third window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers at the EventFinda stadium in Auckland.

Photo from Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas

The Filipinos are coming with only 11 players and without naturalized center Ange Kouame while the Tall Blacks will be parading five players from their 2019 World Cup team.

Leading the way for the nationals are Dwight Ramos and Kiefer Ravena while NCAA Season 97 MVP Rhenz Abando is set to make his debut in the national tri-colors. Completing the cast are RJ Abarrientos, SJ Belangel, Geo Chiu, Dave Ildefonso, LeBron Lopez, William Navarro, Carl Tamayo and Kevin Quiambao.

New Zealand, on the other hand, will be bannered by Corey Webster, Shea Ili, Finn Delany, Jordan Ngatai and Tohi Smith-Milner, all of whom saw action in the World Cup while six other players were also retained from the squad’s lineup in the previous window, including Dion Prewster and Tom Vodanovich who led the Tall Blacks in their 88-63 victory over the Filipinos at home last February.

In that match, Prewster and Vodanovich scored 20 points apiece and provided the one-two punch for New Zealand to stomp Gilas which was then led by Thirdy Ravena and Ramos.

Despite the daunting task of taking down a much bigger New Zealand team, debuting head coach Nenad Vucinic said his young crew must prove that they can compete in international level of play.

“We’ve got a young team here and it’s up to them to prove that they can play at that level and that they can play important games like these two qualifying games,” said Vučinić who will be coaching against the team where he spent his time as a player late in his career and his early days in coaching.

“I believe that New Zealand is going to be very tough. I think they’re going to have their top team for this window. They didn’t have their top team when they were here when they beat us,” he added.

Even without Kouame, Gilas managed to hold its own against the Korean national team in its two close defeats in their friendly games last month. Navarro, Tamayo, Chiu and Quiambao held the fort during those games and will be tasked to the same against New Zealand while Ravena, Ramos and Abando are expected to take the scoring cudgels for the Filipinos.