Gilas kicks off OQT campaign vs Taiwan Mustangs at Philsports
Published on June 23, 2024

The visiting Taiwan Mustangs will get a sample of what Gilas Pilipinas is all about when they tangle in an exhibition match on Monday, June 24, at the Philsports Arena in Pasig City.

Entrance will be free to the public.

Coached by former PBA mentor Chris Gavina, with longtime PBA mainstay Alex Cabagnot probably suiting up, the Mustangs will be ranged against a national team looking to catch the last plane to the Paris Olympics.

That will be via the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament from July 2-7 in Latvia, a Baltic region country north of Europe.

Optimism is high within the Gilas delegation.

Team manager Richard del Rosario believes the Nationals remain a force to be reckoned with in the group stage against Latvia and Georgia.

“My personal opinion on this is while the absence of AJ Edu, Jamie Malonzo and Scottie Thompson [due to injuries] are unfortunate, we still have a solid lineup in terms of versatility and talent,” says Del Rosario late Saturday.

While he is representing management in the Gilas squad, Del Rosario, chief assistant to national coach Tim Cone at Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in the PBA, will probably be serving a similar function as well in Latvia as he does with the Gin Kings.

And this he must feel is another reason to be optimistic in the OQT.

“Junemar [Fajardo] gives us a big boost,” he adds. “Remember that he did not play last window because of injury.”

The reality of what faces them isn’t lost on Del Rosario however.

Latvia, ranked No. 6 in the world, boasts of a couple of NBA players and will have the crowd at the 14,500-capacity Arena Riga behind the home team when it hosts No. 37 Philippines on July 4 at 12 a.m. (Manila time).

Less than 24 hours later, Gilas returns to the playing court to take on No. 23 Georgia at 10:30 p.m. (Manila time) with everything on the line.

“The OQT will be tough because only one team will make it to the Olympics,” Del Rosario says. “But everyone on the team is determined to give their best to represent the country well.”

Malonzo had suffered a calf injury late in a PBA game while Edu has encountered problems in his recovery from a torn miniscus. Thompson, on the other hand, continues to deal with a bulging disc on his back.

A three-day camp at Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna wraps up Sunday, June 30, with the following present: Justin Brownlee, Dwight Ramos, Kai Sotto, Carl Tamayo, Kevin Quiambao, June Mar Fajardo, Chris Newsome, CJ Perez, Calvin Oftana, Japeth Aguilar and Mason Amos.

Practice players Ralph Cu and Donald Gumaru were also in attendance.

The Gilas-Taiwan exhibition is at 6 p.m., Monday, June 24.

Gilas leaves for the OQT on Tuesday, June 25.