CHANGSHA, China – With an Olympic berth as the prize for the winning team, this version of Gilas 3.0 jumpstarts its campaign in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship when it battles today Palestine at the Changsha Social Work College’s Gymnasium here.
The game between the national team and the Palestine squad – a first timer in this tournament – is scheduled at 11:45 p.m. Aside from Palestine, the Philippines is bracketed in Group B with Kuwait and Hong Kong.
The game comes nearly two months after the national team had its first official training session under coach Tab Baldwin, whose squad had a total of 13 matches and a five-day training camp in Cebu last week.
Since a winless campaign in a four-nation invitational tournament in Estonia, followed by a second place finish in the William Jones Cup in Taiwan with a 5-2 record and a sweep of the four-team MVP Cup here, Gilas has shown steady progress under Baldwin.
According to Baldwin, the training camp in Cebu sharpened the team as they refined the system and introduced new plays led by naturalized Filipino center in Andray Blatche.
Baldwin said the Palestine game, as well as those versus Hong Kong tomorrow and Kuwait on Friday, should serve them well as they try to improve the system and move forward.
“We have some games that we believe are important for us – obviously window games,” said Baldwin. “We will take our opponents very seriously… but those games should also prepare us for the later round of the tournament where you’ll play the top teams from Asia.”
This year’s FIBA Asia tournament serves as the qualifying event for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with only the champion moving forward to the Summer Games.
The national team will face a Palestine side that will see action for the first time in the FIBA Asia after earning a spot by finishing third in the West Asia championship behind Lebanon and Jordan.
Jerry Steele, an American, will handle the team with players like 6-foot-8 forward Salim Sakakini and 6-foot-5 shooting guard Nicola Fadayel. Omar Krayem, who was the Asian import of Globalport during the Governors’ Cup, is doubtful in joining the team.
The tournament will also be the first for the 6-foot-11 Blatche, who initially played for the national team in last year’s FIBA World Cup, where he averaged 21.2 points and 13.8 rebounds with 1.6 steals.
Other members of the team that played in the World Cup are Jayson Castro, Ranidel de Ocampo, Gabe Norwood and Marc Pingris, while joining them are veterans Asi Taulava, Sonny Thoss, Dondon Hontiveros, JC Intal, Matt Ganuelas-Rosser, and national team rookies Calvin Abueva and Terrence Romeo.