3 p.m. – Indonesia vs Singapore
5 p.m. – Malaysia vs Thailand
7 p.m. – Gilas Pilipinas vs Myanmar
Gilas Pilipinas begins what could be a long and arduous journey towards the 2019 FIBA World Cup and hopefully the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as it battles Myanmar tonight in the opener of the SEABA Championship at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Though favored to run over the opposition in the six-day competition that gives the champion a spot in the FIBA Asia Cup, Gilas coach Chot Reyes is not taking any chances as he fields a star-studded squad led by PBA players and naturalized player Andray Blatche.
Kicking things off in Gilas’ first step to compete in FIBA Asia qualifying tournaments for the World Cup is the 7 p.m. match with Myanmar, a team the Philippines convincingly beat, 118-43, with an all-amateur roster in the 2013 Southeast Asian Games in Nay Pyi Daw.
“The first step, which is the most important to get us qualified to FIBA Asia, the World Championships (Cup), and God willing… all the way to the Olympics,” said Reyes, who formally starts his return as Gilas coach after a three-year hiatus.
“As we focus all our energies to the tourney at hand, we want to make sure the big picture is on our minds. All of the players are committed to that goal to get back to the Olympics in 2020,” Reyes added.
No playoff will be use after the single-round tourney composed of seven nations. All Gilas needs is to finish on top to advance to the FIBA Asia Cup set this August in Lebanon. The Asia Cup serves as qualifier to the new ‘home and away’ FIBA format to advance to the World Cup starting this November.
Though Gilas is a huge favorite to topple the opposition with ease, Reyes said he is looking at the big picture.
“We are fully aware that the only chance to get there (World Cup and Olympics) is to win the SEABA championship, and that begins on game one (versus Myanmar),” said Reyes.
“Like I said for SEABA, given the importance of winning the championship, we have to field the best, the strongest team possible. That was the guiding principle behind putting this team together, to make sure we have the best chance to win the championship.”
“We scouted the opposition, and based on that, we put together what we felt was the best chance of winning the championship,” added Reyes.
Blatche reunites with Jayson Castro, June Mar Fajardo, Calvin Abueva, Japeth Aguilar, Troy Rosario and Terrence Romeo and Reyes for this latest stint, hoping to make up for his twice-delayed arrival in the lead-up to the SEABA preparation.
He will have new teammates in Gilas newcomers Raymond Almazan and Allein Maiksi, as well as PBA rookies and former cadets Jio Jalalon, Roger Pogoy and Matthew Wright.
“I think everyone is fine. Andray should be shaking off his jetlag and hopefully get his legs fully under him by Friday,” said Reyes, who likewise expects Maliksi after the later had flu the last two days.
Led by its president Al Panlilio and Executive Director Sonny Barrios, the event is organized by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), in cooperation with the PBA, which took a six-day break to give way to the SEABA as pro players are playing for Gilas.