FOSHAN, China – The pain in its heart has yet to subside, but Gilas Pilipinas already boarded a four-hour flight to the Chinese capital of Beijing to confront dangerous Tunisia in the classification phase for 17th to 32nd places of the International Basketball Association (FIBA) Basketball World Cup on Friday at the Wukesong Arena.
Action kicks off at 8 p.m. with the Nationals looking to slay the ghost of their embarrassing performance to Italy, Serbia and Angola in the first round of this prestigious 32-nation tournament.
Gilas head coach Yeng Guiao said his wards are looking for revenge, especially after a massive collapse against the Angolans that resulted to an 81-84 loss in overtime late Wednesday at the GBA International Sport and Cultural Center here.
Guiao said they have to get back on track, especially since they are stacked against two very good teams in Tunisia and Iran in the classification match for 17th to 32nd places.
Tunisia, however, will not be an easy foe.
The African heavyweight will parade Salah Mejri, naturalized player Michael Roll and Makram Ben Romdhane together with seasoned veterans like Omar Abada and Mourad El Mabrouk.
Mejri is a 7-foot-2 center for the Dallas Mavericks while Roll was born and raised in the United States and played for University of California Los Angeles before campaigning in various club tourneys in Israel, Turkey and Egypt.
Of course, Ben Romdhane is also a man to watch as he serves as the heart and soul of this Tunisian squad.
Mejri scored 22 points while Roll and Ben Romdhane added 16 markers apiece to power Tunisia to a 79-67 win over Hamed Haddadi, Sahmad Nikhah Bahrami and the Iranians in the first round.
“Going to Beijing, we’re looking forward to playing the teams that are on the same level of play with us,” Guiao said, adding that a sweep of classification will give them a fighting chance of snatching the elusive spot in the Tokyo Olympics next year, especially after China lost to Venezuela later in the day.
“Whatever happens in that game, want to improve our ranking so whichever way we can, whichever possibility is achievable, then we’ll go for it, especially now that the guys are already feeling comfortable competing in the world stage.”
Guiao admitted that his wards would be marching to the second round with low morale.
In fact, aside from Ravena crying after missing the potential game-winning shot in overtime against Angola, almost all of his players, including naturalized player Andray Blatche, skipper Gabe Norwood and veterans Paul Lee and June Mar Fajardo, are nursing broken hearts.
Still, Guiao doesn’t want emotions to affect their performance.
“It’s not going to help if you focus on those things,” said Guiao, who is known as the tough-talking coach of NLEX in the Philippine Basketball Association.
“I told them not to worry. As I’ve said, all they have to do is to play. They don’t have to answer for anything. When we get back to Manila, I will be the one to explain to anyone who will question our performance here.”