Operation: Beirut

Gilas Pilipinas will be armed with height, heft – and a big fighting heart – when it battles a very dangerous Lebanon squad in the fourth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers on Thursday morning (Manila time) at the Nouhan Nawfal Sports Complex in Beirut.

Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas executive director Sonny Barrios made the announcement, saying that their choices for the Gilas squad may not be the country’s most talented players, but they have what it takes to complete the Beirut mission against a rock-solid team that hardly loses in the international arena.

National Basketball Association standout Jordan Clarkson will be at the forefront of the Filipino attack while Kai Sotto will play a major role as well as Japanese B. League mainstays Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena, Dwight Ramos and Ray Parks.

Also picked were Philippine Basketball Association campaigners Scottie Thompson and Japeth Aguilar of Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, Jamie Malonzo of NorthPort, Chris Newsome of Meralco, Calvin Oftana of NLEX, and Roosevelt Adams of Terrafirma.

University of the Philippines star Carl Tamayo will be the lone collegiate player of the team that will be handled by head coach Chot Reyes as well as assistant mentors Tim Cone, Goldwyn Monteverde and Jong Uichico.

The team ran through their plays on Monday afternoon before their scheduled flight to Lebanon a little past midnight Tuesday. Reyes will announce the final 12-man roster on the eve of their match against Lebanon.

“We observed and evaluated the best mix for the Lebanon trip. They are not necessarily the best players in the country, but they are the best team to play against Lebanon based on the available players,” Barrios said during the special session of the Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum.

Barrios said the squad had a couple of practice sessions since Clarkson and Sotto’s arrival from Los Angeles and Adelaide late last week.

He said they like what they saw.

“From what I saw in their offense, it was a fast ball movement. They have patience in their shots. They don’t force it,” said Barrios, also the SBP spokesman, during sports program presented by San Miguel Corporation, Milo, Philippine Sports Commission, Philippine Olympic Committee, Amelie Hotel Manila, Unilever, and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation.

“Coach Chot, coach Tim and coach Jong wanted them to take the practices seriously. The training yesterday (Sunday) was physical and full of energy.”

But shocking a team like Lebanon in its homecourt will not be easy.

The Cedars, for one, have only lost twice in their past 23 matches this year – 18 games in FIBA Asia competitions and five in the Arab Basketball Championship 2022.

They destroyed Gilas in their previous meeting in the 2022 FIBA Asia Cup in Indonesia in July with Most Valuable Player Wael Arakji and naturalized player Jonathan Arledge doing a lot of damage in their 95-80 victory.

The Lebanese are also dangerous at home, winning six of their past 23 games in Beirut with an average of 35.8 points, with no team coming as close to 19 points.

Gilas, on the other hand, are huffing and puffing in the international stage.

They have struggled in the second and third windows of the Asian Qualifiers and the FIBA Asia Cup and dropped an important crown they have been holding for four decades – the Southeast Asian Games title.

But with a legitimate NBA campaigner in Clarkson at the helm, Barrios believes that Gilas can change their fortune and come up with a very crucial win.

“He adapts very well and relates very well with the three coaches: Chot, Tim and Jong. The energy is high for the team. As far as cohesion is concerned, it’s very promising and it’s nice to watch them play together. He looks matured since we last saw him in the Asian Games,” Barrios said.

“His moves are outstanding. You can tell he is really NBA material.”

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