MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: Gilas Pilipinas battles Lebanon, starts redemption tour

Gilas Pilipinas kicks off its redemption tour when it clashes with Lebanon in the second round of the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers at the Nouhad Nawfal Sports Complex in Beirut early Friday.

The Filipinos march on unfamiliar terrain at 2 a.m. (Manila time) with a revitalized lineup raring to end their international misfortune and establish a winning mentality for the prestigious FIBA World Cup that the country will host next year.

Leading the way for the Nationals, who left a little past midnight on Tuesday, are Utah Jazz star Jordan Clarkson and Kai Sotto together with mainstays Dwight Ramos, Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena, Carl Tamayo and Ray Parks.

Gilas will also feature a handful of Philippine Basketball Association talents in reigning Most Valuable Player Scottie Thompson, Japeth Aguilar, Calvin Oftana and newcomers Chris Newsome, Jaime Malonzo and free-agent Roosevelt Adams.

It will be a much-awaited rematch since Lebanon thwarted the Philippines, 95-80, in their opening game in the FIBA Asia Cup in Japan last month.

That game alone spelled the fates of both sides — Gilas suffered their lowest Asia Cup finish at ninth since 2007 while the Cedars surprised everyone with a stellar silver medal finish in the prestigious tourney.

Gilas head coach Chot Reyes said it will be a daunting task facing a well-oiled Lebanese side at home, knowing that his wards only had a week of preparation since unveiling pool last week.

The Philippines will try to claim their third win after finishing with a 2-2 card in the first round of the qualifying tourney.

“We’re still in the getting-to-know-you stage and how to play. Hopefully, we can fast-track it,” said Reyes, who will be joined by assistant coach Tim Cone and Jong Uichico on the sidelines.

“We have two more practices in Lebanon and you know how important chemistry is to winning games.”

Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas executive director Sonny Barrios said they are deploying a tall, athletic and fast team so expect a lot of ball movement and lightning-quick executions.

“If you notice, this team has a very good height. I guess the smallest among the players are Scottie and Kieffer,” said Barrios, also the federation’s spokesperson.

“With that, we expect fast ball movement, including moving without the ball and patience in taking shots. Nobody will be in a hurry. If there’s a chance to attack, they’ll take it. If none, they will kick out and find the open man. They will move the ball fast. There will no ball-hogging.”

A win over Lebanon could wipe all the pent-up frustration of Filipino fans to Gilas in the past few months.

The country’s setbacks in the Asia Cup and the Southeast Asian Games prompted the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas to review its roadmap and tap higher-caliber players in Clarkson and Sotto.

Clarkson, on his second tour of duty for Gilas, averaged 26 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists when he steered Gilas to a fifth-place finish in the 18th Asian Games to complete the country’s highest placing since 2002.

The 7-foot-3 Sotto, meanwhile, will power the frontcourt since he last played in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Serbia last year.

But Lebanon is expected to unleash a deadly lineup as it retained its 18-man Asia Cup roster led by Asia Cup Most Valuable Player Wael Arakji.

Also powering the Cedars are naturalized big man Jonathan Arledge, Ali Haidar, Hayk Gyokchyan and sniper Sergio El Darwich.

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