All ready for Fiba Asia: Gilas arrives in China, holds first practice
Gilas Pilipinas arrived in Changsha, China late Monday night with its eyes on the prize: a gold medal and a ticket to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The Filipinos wrapped up their first practice Tuesday morning, a day ahead of the start of the competition.
“First practice here in Changsha in the books. All ready for tomorrow,” said national team assistant coach Josh Reyes in a photo on Instagram.
Gilas’ path to Rio starts on Wednesday against tournament first-timer Palestine at 11:45 a.m at Changsha Social Work College’s Gymnasium.
Palestine may be a newcomer but Gilas head coach Tab Baldwin said the team will treat every game the same whether they’re up against the tournament lightweights or the powerhouses like host China and defending champion Iran.
“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.”
The Palestinians, who are coached by American Jerry Steele, booked a slot in the Fiba Asia after finishing in third place behind Lebanon and Jordan in the West Asia championship.
Anchoring Gilas’ bid is naturalized big man Andray Blatche, who hopes to pick up where he left off when he averaged 21.2 points, 13.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals in the 2014 Fiba World Cup in Seville, Spain.
The Philippines is expected to breeze through the first phase of the tournament where it will also face Hong Kong and Kuwait.
Only the champion team will earn a spot in the Olympics.
Gilas Pilipinas hasn’t been to the Olympics since 1972 in Munich and it’s been 29 years since it ruled the Asian championship.
The Philippines won the silver medal in the previous edition held in Manila but getting the same result won’t call for any celebration unlike the last time where three squads were given spots in the 2014 Fiba World Cup of Basketball.