Gilas Pilipinas leaves for Spain Sunday to shift its preparation for the FIBA Basketball World Cup to a higher gear.
The national pool of head coach Yeng Guiao, minus a couple of players, will fly to Madrid and travel to Guadalajara to play Congo and Ivory Coast in back-to-back practice games — the Nationals’ first real tests since returning to camp for the World Cup.
The Filipino dribblers then will travel to Malaga for another tuneup with Congo in a mini-tournament as the winner in their tussle will face the victor in the Spain-Ivory Coast match.
Guiao said he wants to face Spain to get the feel of the kind of competition they will be facing in the 32-nation tournament in China.
But Ivory Coast and Congo are no pushovers as they are also fielding in their best teams in the mini-tournament.
Ivory Coast, which shocked Switzerland in a tune-up game, 69-68, a couple of days ago, is parading a naturalized player in Deon Thompson, the former standout from University of North Carolina.
The Elephants, who would be mentored by French Hugues Occansey, are in Group A in the World Cup along with Poland, Venezuela and host China.
Congo, ranked No. 82 in the world, is not participating in the World Cup but will definitely give Gilas a real test.
The team of coach Eric Kibi is coming off a successful campaign in the FIBA Africa tournament, beating Kenya, 82-61, in the gold medal match.
Congo has a former NBA player on its roster in Christian Eyenga, who had stints with Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers.
Spain, the No. 2 ranked in the world behind the powerhouse United States, is the favorite to win the mini-tournament as the squad of Italian coach Sergio Scariolo boasts a number of NBA players in their 16-man pool.
Leading Spain’s charge are Phoenix Suns guard Ricky Rubio, Toronto Raptors center Marc Gasol, Denver Nuggets’ Juan Hernangomez and Willy Hernandez of Charlotte Hornets. Rudy Fernandez, a former NBA campaigner, and Sergio Llull are also in the pool.
Naturalized player Andray Blatche, Gabe Norwood, Japeth Aguilar, Beau Belga, Stanley Pringle, Kiefer Ravena, Raymond Almazan, Mark Barroca, Paul Lee, Poy Erram, Matthew Wright, CJ Perez and Robert Bolick are joining the trip.
TNT KaTropa’s Roger Pogoy and Troy Rosario and San Miguel Beer’s June Mar Fajardo, Christian Standhardinger and Marcio Lassiter (injury) won’t make the trip as their teams are playing in the finals of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup.
Gilas are in Group D along with Angola, Italy and Serbia.