Despite a beefed-up coaching team, the Gilas Pilipinas is still expected to face an uphill contest in the third window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.
The Philippines will clash against New Zealand on June 30 at the Auckland EventFinda Stadium before colliding with India at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena on July 3.
It can be recalled that Gilas absorbed a 63-88 heavy beating from the hands of the NZ Tall Blacks in their last encounter on February 27, 2022.
New Zealand, ranked 27th in the FIBA men’s ranking as of March 2022, leads Group A with a clean 3-0 slate followed by 1-1 Philippines, which dropped from No. 33 to 34, in second and 0-3 India (No. 80) third.
Veteran guard Kiefer Ravena is the new team captain of the Gilas squad that will also be composed of Dwight Ramos, RJ Abarrientos, SJ Belangel, Rhenz Abando, Carl Tamayo, Francis Lopez, William Navarro, Kevin Quiambao, Geo Chiu, and Dave Ildefonso who is coming to play from an ankle injury.
Must win game against India
PBA legend El Presidente Ramon Fernandez, outgoing commissioner of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), is optimistic that the Gilas team will at least win against India anew.
“I hope they win a game, probably against India. They will definitely improve, thus hopefully improve our standing in the international scene,” Fernandez said.
Veteran sports report Manolo “Chino” Trinidad said, “The team is only as good as the coach. Panoorin natin galaw kapag si Coach Nenad. Kita naman sa last na biyahe nila. Ang laking pagkakaiba dun sa disaster in Vietnam (Let’s see how it goes with Coach Nenad. We could see in their last trip. There’s a big difference from the disaster in Vietnam).”
He was talking about 57-year-old coach Nenad Vucinic who will take on the reins of coaching the Gilas. Hopes are high though as Vucinic is quite familiar with the Tall Blacks as he was New Zealand’s head coach for eight years from 2007 to 2014. He steered the Tall Blacks to winning the 2011 FIBA Stankovic Cup after beating the Russians in their championship match.
Coach Vucinic, in a statement, said, “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 we play well.”
Davao City basketball coach Isaias Gravador, Jr. said the current roster of the Gilas team has good chances following their impressive friendly matches against South Korea.
“New Zealand is a very good team. Hopefully, our speed can catch them off guard,” Gravador said.
The Tall Blacks appeared in two FIBA World Cup editions under Vucinic’s mentorship.
The Tall Blacks defeated Lebanon, Canada, and France to secure a spot in the knockout stage of the 2010 FIBA World Cup in Turkey only to be beaten by Russia in the round of 16.
New Zealand also qualified for the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain and made it to the round of 16 to no avail. The eventual fourth placer Lithuania eliminated New Zealand.
FIBA Hall of Famer
FIBA Hall of Famer Pero Cameron is the current head coach of the Tall Blacks. He played for the Tall Blacks in the 2010 FIBA World Cup under Vucinic’s tutelage and later became one of the latter’s assistant coaches in 2011.
Vucinic also had an 11-year stint as a New Zealand national player and his career was highlighted by an appearance in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Although the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas has earlier said that Vucinic’s Gilas stint will only be for the third window, some are wanting him to stay for good.
Chot Reyes, winningest tactician Tim Cone of the Barangay Ginebra, and UP champion mentor Goldwin Monteverde along with Jong Uichico and Josh Reyes complete the coaching staff.