MANILA, Philippines—The Philippine men’s basketball team got a glimpse of the tough competition even before the real battle began.
Smart Gilas Pilipinas slipped past the Kazakhstan national team, which national team head coach Chot Reyes called “one of the strongest,” 92-89, on Friday in a tune-up match.
“In my books, one of the strongest Kazhakstan, we’ve always had a hard time against this team,” said Reyes after their last game before Fiba Asia Championship next week.
And the Kazakhs are precisely why the Filipinos opted not to be bracketed in group D, which also has India, Bahrain and Thailand, for the preliminary round, according to Reyes.
The Filipinos are in group A with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Chinese Tapei.
“I know there are a lot of geniuses who think we should be in group D. But really I’m woried about Kazakhstan,” admitted Reyes. “If we lose to them in the first round we might not even make it past the second [if we were in group D].”
And Reyes’ worries were not unfounded as Kazakhstans gave the Filipinos a scare on Friday, showcasing their range and peskiness down low.
Its guard Jerry Johnson made sure to flaunt his explosiveness and finished with 17 markers while main man Anton Ponomarev added 16 points.
And this was only Kazakhstan’s fourth game in their build-up for the Fiba Asia, so veteran head coach Matteo Boniciolli wasn’t all disappointed with his players’ showing despite the loss.
“We came from 45 days of very hard work with 3 scrimmages. This was our 4th game. I don’t say I’m satisfied because I don’t like to lose, but it’s not that bad,” he said.
They shot 11 triples,and so did the Philippines, which was mostly from Jeff Chan, so it wasn’t a suprising when Boniciolli pointed our the Filipino marksmen.
“They’re one of the favorites for the 3 medals. They have a very good team, great coaching staff and they looked very aggresive, [they also have] fantastic shooters,” he said.
Before coaching the Kazakhstan national team, Boniciolli served as assistant for the national team of Italy, his hometown, from 1996 to 2001.
As to Reyes’ favorite tag on Kazhakstan, Boniciolli just wants his team to make a splash in the 11-day Asian Championships, which dangles three slots to the FIBA worlds.
“Thanks for his appreciation to our team. We are here to compete and to respect our opponent and we’re to win,” he said. “I think we’ll be one of the most interesting in the competition.”