FOSHAN, China – Gilas Pilipinas head coach Yeng Guiao tried his best to avoid comparison, but still, he couldn’t help but admit that this year’s batch is more equipped, more prepared than the squad that saw action in the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Basketball World Cup in 2014.
A day before heading into what he branded as a “make-or-break” game against Italy in the World Cup at the GBA International Sports and Cultural Center here Saturday, Guiao said he likes the chemistry and cohesion of his team that could prompt them to surpass the single-win feat registered by Gilas Pilipinas in the previous World Cup in Spain.
With Chot Reyes as head coach, Gilas Pilipinas made a return to the world stage after a 36-year absence following a silver-medal performance in the FIBA Asia Men’s Championship in Manila in 2013.
The squad had a long preparation as it integrated Andray Blatche into the system shortly after successfully undergoing naturalization process.
Gilas marched with fire in their eyes as they pushed Croatia to the brink before surrendering a 78-81 overtime setback followed by close losses to Greece, 70-82, and Argentina, 81-85, in a game that was highlighted by Gabe Norwood’s monster jam over seasoned international campaigner Luis Scola.
The Nationals faltered again to NBA campaigner Carlos Arroyo and the Puerto Ricans, 73-77, before registering a big 81-79 overtime victory over Senegal to capture their first win in the world stage in 40 years.
Since then, the squad tremendously improved as holdovers Gabe Norwood, June Mar Fajardo, Paul Lee and Blatche have all blossomed into the leaders of this new Gilas squad that also has young guns Kiefer Ravena, CJ Perez and Robert Bolick.
Guiao, who was then handling Rain or Shine in the Philippine Basketball Association, said he has zero idea of how the Gilas squad performed in 2014, but stressed that his team has all the tools to either match or surpass its performance in the biggest arena in basketball.
“I wouldn’t know because I wasn’t yet here in 2014,” Guiao told a handful of Manila-based scribes shortly after wrapping up their final practice late Friday.
“I didn’t know the situation then. I only watched it on television. So my basis for comparison is really thin. But from the way I look at it, I can say that both teams have improved.”
Guiao emphasized that they have what it takes to pull off a shocking upset of Italy.
In fact, the team may have a shorter preparation due to schedule conflict with the PBA, but the players have worked hard to develop chemistry and cohesiveness entering the final stretch of their preparation.
“Our team now actually took less time to prepare,” he said.
“That team in 2014 took was together for maybe almost two years before they went to the World Cup.
But I feel that in this team, the chemistry is already here. I feel that we have the right pieces. I would have wanted some injured players in the lineup, but of course it’s useless to wish for that at this point.”
He, however, pointed out that he’s not comparing.
“But, as much as possible, I’m trying to avoid comparison,” he said. “I guess the result is going to speak for itself.”
A victory over Italy would definitely go down as the biggest win in Philippine basketball history.
And once they have gotten the Italians out of their way, all they need is to dominate Angola — a team that is three rungs lower than them in the world ranking — in the final battle of the first round to make history of advancing to the next phase.
Gilas Pilipinas and Italy are still clashing at press time.
“If we hit our outside shots against Italy, then we’ll be in business,” said Guiao, plotting a massive upset of a team that crushed them by 36 points in their previous encounter.
“I’m counting three or four from Dray (Blatche) then the rest could come from Paul, RR, Robert, Kiefer and other players. It is important that we run the floor and use our quickness while also controlling the boards. We can’t simply give up too many offensive rebounds.”