(Nouhad Nawfal Sports
6:30 p.m. – China vs Philippines
9 p.m. – Iran vs India
11:30 p.m. – Iraq vs Qatar
2 a.m. – Jordan vs Syria
Lingering questions that hounded Gilas Pilipinas for weeks will likely be answered tonight as it faces mighty China to open its campaign in the FIBA Asia Cup at the Nouhad Nawfal Sports Complex in Beirut, Lebanon.
Gilas hopes to rise above concerns of Andray Blatche’s absence, the injury of June Mar Fajardo and the difficulty of facing the tall Chinese squad in the rematch of the 2015 FIBA Asia final in the 6:30 Manila time showdown.
The Filipinos need to beat China in order to boost its chances of topping Group B and gain an early ticket to the quarterfinals. Also in the group are Iraq and Qatar.
Fajardo has all but ruled himself out of the 12-day competition that began yesterday in the Lebanese capital after being diagnosed with a strained right calf following a game for the San Miguel Beermen in the PBA Governors’ Cup.
That leaves Gilas with only 6-foot-8 players Christian Standhardinger, Raymond Almazan and Japeth Aguilar to share the responsibilities of manning the middle, giving coach Chot Reyes plenty of dilemma.
Asked if the three are up to the task against a Chinese team that boasts of two 7-foot players, Reyes responded with a resounding no, adding: “They’re not – not because they’re not good players, but ranged against a couple of 7-footers, couple of 6-foot-11 guys, and we have what? Couple of 6-foot-8 guys, they’re not up to it.
“It’s going to take a tremendous amount of…they’re up to it in spirit, they’re going to fight like crazy, but they’re not up to it in size and experience of the players that we’re going to battle in Lebanon.”
Reyes may be either frank or just relishing the underdog role, but he will have to do with what he has in Beirut, particularly in the guard position with two-time FIBA Asia Mythical Five Jayson Castro and Terrence Romeo expected to carry the offense.
The swingman position features Calvin Abueva and his all-out hustle and first-time FIBA Asia competitor Matthew Wright and his shooting ability.
Standhardinger competes in his biggest tournament yet, hoping to provide the energy and intensity that was seen in his maiden Gilas stint in the William Jones Cup in Taiwan.
And who knows, Fajardo could end up getting little minutes, since he hasn’t ruled out missing the tournament altogether. But then, Gilas, as Reyes stressed, is all but focused on playing as if the three-time PBA Most Valuable Player won’t be available at all.