World Cup journey starts today

By Jonas Terrado

Game Today

(Komazawa Gymnasium, Tokyo)

6 p.m. – Japan vs Philippines

Gilas Pilipinas will parade a team that hopes to counter Japan’s strength at the perimeter as they face off today in the start of the 2019 FIBA World Cup qualifiers at the Komazawa Gymnasium in Tokyo.

Coach Chot Reyes decided yesterday not to include versatile forwards Carl Bryan Cruz and Mac Belo and injured center Raymond Almazan in Gilas’ 12-man roster for the 6 p.m. Manila time game the Philippines seeks to win in front of an expected partisan crowd of 3,000.

Naturalized player Andray Blatche, Jayson Castro, June Mar Fajardo, Gabe Norwood, Japeth Aguilar, Matthew Wright, Roger Pogoy, Calvin Abueva, Troy Rosario, Allein Maliksi, Kiefer Ravena and Kevin Alas compose the roster against the Japanese squad.

Chot Reyes

“Basically we took into account the team that we’ll be playing (today) and we also took into account our health, our injury situation and we have decided to sit out Carl, Mac and Raymond,” Reyes told the team in a meeting captured on Facebook live by ESPN5.

Almazan could have been a shoo-in for the Japan game but hurt his ankle during Sunday’s practice, the second Gilas player to sustain an injury after Terrence Romeo failed to join most of the team’s preparation due to a knee contusion.

It is not sure whether the Rain or Shine center would be available for Monday’s home match against Taiwan at the Smart Araneta Coliseum as Gilas has an option to replace its lineup after tonight’s contest.

The Philippines hopes to extend its mastery over Japan in the FIBA Asia competitions, having won five straight since losing to the latter in the 2003 ABC Championship in Harbin, China.

Gilas beat Japan twice in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship in Changsha, China, including the 81-70 victory in the semifinals.

But Reyes is wary of the Japanese squad led by naturalized player Ira Brown, brothers Joji and Kosuke Takeuchi, Makoto Hiejima and Yuki Togashi and coached by Argentinian Julio Lamas.

Lamas has had some history with Gilas in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain when he coached Argentina to a scary 85-81 victory over the upset-minded Filipino cagers.

“They shoot the ball well, they have a good coach, so we’re going to have a very difficult time against Japan,” Reyes said during last week’s Gilas sendoff.

Blatche makes his Gilas return after missing the FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon last August while Maliksi, Ravena and Alas are set to appear in the biggest tournament of their national team careers.

Castro, Fajardo, Norwood, Aguilar, Wright, Pogoy and Abueva were part of the Gilas team that finished seventh in the FIBA Asia Cup while Rosario last represented the country in the Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur.

Tags: 2019 FIBA World Cup , Chot Reyes , Gilas Pilipinas