by Waylon Galvez
Game Today (Heraklion Indoor Sports Arena in Haraklion, Greece)
6:15 p.m. – Argentina vs Russia
8:30 p.m. – Philippines vs Greece
Gilas Pilipinas Youth coach Sandy Arespacochaga made it clear to his players that defense is their main focus when the national team takes on host Greece as the FIBA Under-19 World Cup kicks off Saturday at the Heraklion Indoor Sports Arena in Haraklion, Greece.
The game between the Philippine and Greece is scheduled at 8:30 p.m. (1:30 a.m. Sunday Manila time).
The national team will face an opposition that is solid on both guards and wing positions led by 6-foot-8 forward Nikos Rogkavopoulos, who plays for the pro team AEK Athens in the Greek League.
“He’s the main scorer,” said Arespacochaga of Rogkavopoulos, who helped Greece capture gold medal in the FIBA 16-Under Europe Championship and was named the Most Valuable Player after he averaged 18 points and almost seven rebounds per game back in 2017.
“He is one of the players that we need to focus our defense. They also have other forwards than are also capable of scoring, so we have to toughen our defense. So we really need play good defense to have a chance. Also, they have home the court advantage, so their crowd is another important factor for Greece,” he added.
Arespacochaga is referring to a pair of 6-foot-5 Greek point guards in Nikos Arsenopolous and Chrysostomos Sandramanis, and Vasileios Gargalis, a 6-foot-8 power forward.
The interior defense of the Philippine team will have the towering 7-foot-2 center Kai Sotto and 6-foot-10 Filipino-Cypriot power forward AJ Edu, who will again team up after leading Gilas Youth to a fourth place finish in last year’s FIBA Under-18 Asian Championship in Thailand.
Arespacochaga said that the Philippine has an advantage at the center position considering the skills set of Sotto, Edu and the other big guys of the national team like Carl Tamayo and Geo Chiu.
“Their players at the center position are not actually scorers, although they’re good role players,” he said.
While the trio of Sotto, Edu and Tamayo are shoo-in for the team’s final 12, Arespacochagawill still have to choose from other members of the pool, including Fil-Italian Dalph Panopio, Xyrus Torres, Gerry Abadiano, John Bismarck Lina, Rhayyan Amsali, Joshua Ramirez, Miguel Andre Oczon, Sean Dave Ildefonso, Terrence Fortea and James Spencer.
As part of their preparation for the tournament, the national team had a five-day training camp in Doha, Qatar, which featured two impressive wins in a tune up game against pro team Al Rayyan.