With the February window of the FIBA World Cup 2023 Asian Qualifiers just around the corner, here are a few storylines that should pique the interest of Filipino fans.
Gilas Pilipinas is set to face its fellow Group A members in South Korea (Feb. 24 and 28), India (Feb. 25), and New Zealand (Feb. 27) at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. Tickets to the venue are now available in all TicketNet outlets and online via www.ticketnet.com.ph. The games will also be available on TV5, One Sports, and Smart GigaPlay.
Familiar faces from the Tall Blacks
Two former UAAP players will make their return to the Philippines. La Salle’s Taane Samuel and UE’s Richie Rodger are part of New Zealand’s 14-man roster who will compete next week.
Both Samuel (Wellington States) and Rodger (Otago Nuggets) currently play in the New Zealand National Basketball League.
Another player to keep an eye on is Dion Prewster of NBL-Australia’s Melbourne United. The 6-foot-5 swingman had an outstanding 2021 when he was still playing for the Wellington States in New Zealand. He won several individual awards including Defensive Player of the Year and MVP, averaging 18.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.3 steals.
Who to watch out for against India
Filipino fans are no stranger to India’s prized center Princepal Singh. The 6-foot-9 big man was Kai Sotto’s teammate in the NBA G League Ignite.
Aside from his G League stint, Singh also brings with him his experience from the 2021 NBA Summer League with the Sacramento Kings. Currently, Singh is with the New Zealand Breakers.
Veterans Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Muin Bek Hafeez, and Amritpal Singh will provide experience and leadership for the squad.
India has a lot to prove in these games. They nearly missed out on a chance to enter both the FIBA Asia Cup and the World Cup Qualifiers but managed to secure a slot after besting Palestine at the Qualifying Tournament for Third Ranked Teams.
Another titanic battle against Korea
Another chapter was added in the storied rivalry between South Korea and the Philippines as they competed against each other in the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers. The highlight of their two-game affair in Clark, Pampanga was SJ Belangel’s buzzer-beater that allowed Gilas Pilipinas to sweep Korea.
Korea has made it loud and clear that they want payback from last year. “Now, it is time for revenge. I am ready and confident about beating them in the two games,” Kim SunHyung, who’s back in the national team lineup after missing the Asia Cup Qualifiers, said in a FIBA interview.
Unfortunately, Korea has been ravaged by COVID-19. Kim himself tested positive for the virus but was recently cleared. However, the team faces the possible loss of naturalized star Ra Gun-A, also known as Ricardo Ratliffe. The former PBA import put up 18.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists for Korea in the Asia Cup Qualifiers last year.
What will Gilas Pilipinas look like?
The biggest concerns for Gilas Pilipinas heading into the February window are the significant changes in the lineup and coaching staff.
The core of TNT Tropang Giga players, and of course newly re-appointed Gilas head coach Chot Reyes, will play a huge role in terms of familiarity and chemistry. Fortunately, several TNT players, including the likes of Jayson Castro and Troy Rosario, have rich experience playing in international tournaments.
Hopefully, the influx of young talent will also make a huge impact. Headlined by Robert Bolick, Dwight Ramos, Thirdy Ravena, and Juan Gomez de Liano, the World Cup Qualifiers will give a perfect preview of the future of Gilas Pilipinas.
The Philippines come in as heavy favorites, especially with the home-court advantage. Can the new-look Gilas team come out unscathed for this window?