Gilas Pilipinas Men head coach Nenad Vučinić is optimistic that the Philippines will have a better showing in the third window of the FIBA World Cup 2023 Asian Qualifiers.
“We can beat New Zealand. We can beat India,” said Vučinić who has been tasked to man the sidelines for the two games. “We have to play very well though, to beat them, especially against New Zealand.”
In the previous window in February, Gilas easily won against India, 88-64, but lost versus New Zealand, 88-63. The new team heading into the third window will be younger compared to the one before which had PBA players, but Vučinić is confident in the potential of this version of Gilas Men.
“We’ve got a young team here and it’s up to them to prove that they can play at that level and that they can play important games like these two qualifying games,” Vučinić said.
The latest Gilas Men roster features Kiefer Ravena and Dwight Ramos, alongside RJ Abarrientos, SJ Belangel, Geo Chiu, Dave Ildefonso, Francis Lopez, William Navarro, Carl Tamayo, plus newcomers Rhenz Abando and Kevin Quiambao.
Gilas will take on India, which is still searching for its first win after three games.
“India has got a lot of size but we believe we can compete with them in a transition game and we can execute well,” assessed Vučinić. “We have to shoot the ball well because we are a guard-oriented team. We have to shoot the ball well and if we don’t shoot the ball well I’m sure we will create opportunities for shots but in the end, we have to make them.”
Before hosting India, the national team will first have to fly out to New Zealand and lock horns with the Tall Blacks who boast a perfect 3-0 record so far.
“I believe that New Zealand is going to be very tough. I think they’re going to have their top team for this window. They didn’t have their top team when they were here when they beat us,” said Vučinić, who is hoping that there will be a lot of Filipinos in the stands despite being on the road.
It will also be a homecoming of sorts for Vučinić who played professionally in New Zealand and also became the national team head coach from 2006 to 2014 after being an assistant for six years.
“It’s a weird feeling,” the coach admitted about facing his former team. “Even in February when we hosted them here I’m looking at those New Zealand uniforms and I’m looking at the Haka, I’m looking at people that I know, some of those players when I was coaching eight years ago like Rob Loe, Ethan Rusbatch, and Tom Vodanich. They were young guys when I was coaching so it’s a weird feeling.
“And it’s gonna be even weirder now because I’m a head coach for this window. So it’s difficult but in the end, once the game starts, we’re gonna try to beat them.”
As Gilas takes on a hungry Indian team and an undefeated New Zealand squad, it will take the right mix of determination and execution.
“They cannot step back, they cannot go into this game not thinking that they can win the game. This is very important,” Vučinić said. “But they have to also execute. They have to play within the system. We have got some talent that we can exploit, but without the system, it’s impossible to do that. So they have to trust the system, they have to execute and then you know it comes down to the ability to adjust to what the opposition is doing because it’s high-level opposition, very good coaching staff.”
More than the X’s and O’s, Vučinić said that it will boil down to the players’ belief that they can win against top competition and that a collective effort can transcend talent.
Gilas will take on New Zealand on June 30 at 3:30 PM and India on July 3 at 7:00 PM. Both games will be live on One Sports, One Sports+, TV5, Smart GigaPlay, and CignalPlay.