MANILA, Philippines — More than a month before the Philippines plays against some of the best in the globe in the Fiba World Cup, some of the best in the world have come to invade this basketball-crazed nation.
National Basketball Association stars are in the country to give Gilas Pilipinas the workout it needs and showcase why Team USA is the world’s greatest basketball program. Ever.
Five players belonging to a pool of 19—from which USA Basketball will select its team for the World Cup in Spain—will play against the Nationals in two charity games dubbed “Gilas Last Home Stand” Tuesday and Wednesday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Blake Griffin, the mean slam dunk artist of the Los Angeles Clippers, the smooth Paul George of Indiana, James Harden of Houston, Demar DeRozan of Toronto and Damian Lillard of Portland were named by legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski to the US pool and could very well play in Spain.
The others in the Americans’ Team Fibr lineup are Tyson Chandler, Ed Davis, Brandon Jennings, Terrence Ross, Nick Johnson, Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard, the recent Finals MVP for the world champion San Antonio Spurs.
‘We’ll put on a show’
“We’re just going to come out and put on a show,” said Lowry, who recently signed a four-year $48-million contract extension with the Toronto Raptors.
John Lucas, the many-time NBA All-Star, will handle Team Fibr against Gilas, which will come into the two-day event fresh from a bronze medal finish in the Fiba Asia Cup in Wuhan, China.
And playing against NBA stars will definitely give Gilas a feel of how high the bar has been set on the world stage.
“We want to share the values of basketball to this country,” Lucas said during the event’s badly managed press launch at NBA Cafe in SM Aura yesterday afternoon (See related story below).
“We want to be ambassadors of the sport we all love. They can witness the NBA as a whole (in these games).
“These guys’ commitment to come over and help with the (Philippine) national team is great and commendable,” Lucas added.
The NBA players are aware of the passion the Filipinos have for the game and Lillard said he has never before got the adulation that this country has given him in such a short stay here so far.
“The reception was great,” Lillard, the NBA Rookie of the Year two seasons ago, said. “Coming from the US, we very much appreciate this. They (Filipinos) love the game the way we do.”
Leonard admitted that his only idea of Philippine basketball was Chip Engelland.
Engelland, a naturalized Filipino who helped the country’s Northern Cement team beat a US squad in the 1985 Jones Cup, is the shooting coach of the Spurs.
And Leonard acknowledges the help Engelland has given him.
“I never saw the tape, never saw him against the US,” the shy Leonard said in a very low voice. “But he is our shooting coach and he has helped me a lot.”
The two-game series will mark the last time that Gilas will play here as the team departs later in the week for Miami for training.
Andray Blatche, an eight-year 6-11 NBA veteran center, is the new naturalized player for the Philippines in the World Cup.
Marcus Douthit will be playing for Gilas alongside Jason Castro, Marc Pingris, Larry Fonacier, Jimmy Alapag, Gabe Norwood and Jeff Chan—team aces who didn’t make the trip to Wuhan.
The event will also feature Team Fibr and Gilas players giving clinics, as well as a slam dunk and three-point shooting exhibitions.