Standing in the way of Gilas Youth: A preview of Group C in FIBA Under-19 World Cup

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The Gilas Pilipinas Youth team will be playing in the FIBA Under-19 World Cup which will be held from June 27 to July 8 in Heraklion, Greece.

The Philippines found itself in a proverbial Group of Death with two European teams, Russia and host Greece, and one of the best teams in FIBA Americas, Argentina. We will breakdown the three teams that Batang Gilas will be facing in the competition.

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Greece (FIBA World Ranking: 15)
Finished 14th in the FIBA Europe Under-18

The host team did not exactly impress during the FIBA Under-18 European Championships. They were booted out of contention in the Round of 16. The Greeks eventually finished with a 3-4 record. However, a closer look at the results will reveal that three out of their four losses were by six points or less.

With an average height of 6’7, Greece will be the tallest team that the Batang Gilas will be facing. The best performing Greek big man in the European Championships is 6’8 power forward Vasleios Gargalis who averaged 8 points and 7 boards. Their two centers, 7’1 Stratos Voulgaropoloulos and 6’10 Emmanouil Chatzidakis, contributed combined numbers of only 6.8 points and 6.7 boards.

One player whom the Philippines and the rest of the competition should look out for is 6’8 guard-forward Nikos Rogkavopoulos, who plays for AEK Athens in the top division of the Greek Basketball League. Rogkavopoulos turned pro at the age of 15. He was named the MVP of the 2017 FIBA Europe Under-16 Division B Championships. During last year’s Euro Under-18, Rogkavopoulos was an unstoppable force as he normed 19.7 points per game. He hit an outstanding 45% clip from 3-point territory. He also grabbed 6.6 boards.

Expected to provide more firepower for the Greeks in the World Cup will be 6’5 shooting guard Chrysostomos Sandramanis who scored 14.1 points per outing and 6’3 point guard Nikolaos Arsenopoulos who averaged 11.7 points in the European Championships.

Russia (FIBA World Ranking: 19)
Finished 4th in the FIBA Europe Under-18

Russia will be one of the favorites to top the group after it barely missed a podium finish in the FIBA Under-18 European Championships. It posted victories over France and Turkey in the Group Phase, then defeated Italy and Lithuania in the knockout stage before bowing to Latvia in the semifinals. In a rematch versus France for 3rd place, Russia fell 70-79.

Do-it-all small forward Nikita Mikhailovskii will lead the charge for the Russians in the World Cup. The 18-year-old Mikhailovskii, a mainstay of Avtodor Saratov in the VTB United League (the top tier of Russian professional basketball) since 2017, was named to the All-Star Five of the FIBA Under-18 European Championships with his averages of 16.3 points, 7.4 boards, and 2.1 assists per game.

Forming a potent one-two punch with Mikhailovskii is 6’5 shooting guard Aleksandr Ershov who plays for the junior team of Russian powerhouse CSKA Moscow. Ershov normed 12 points for Russia in the European Championships.

A trio of bruising bigs will banner the Russian frontline. These are 6’7 power forward Anton Kvitkovskikh, 6’10 power forward Alexander Shashkov, and 6’10 center Pavel Zakharov who all registered at least 7 points and 4 boards a game to help Russia to a 4th place finish in the European Qualifiers.

FIBA World Ranking: 9
Finished 3rd in the FIBA Americas Under-18

World Number 9 Argentina is tipped to crowd Russia for the top spot in the group. The team placed 3rd in the FIBA Americas Under-18 after bowing to eventual champion the United States in the semifinals, 92-104, before defeating Puerto Rico in their last game, 87-79, to bag the bronze.

Kai Sotto and AJ Edu will find their toughest challenge when they go up against 6’10 Argentine center Francisco Caffaro. Caffaro was relatively unknown to US scouts until last year’s FIBA Americas. He meteorically rose to becoming a 4-star NCAA prospect after showing he was a dominant force in the FIBA Americas as he bullied his way to averages of 16.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, and one block per game. He was selected to the Mythical Five at the end of the tournament. Caffaro will be suiting up this coming NCAA season for the University of Virgina Cavaliers.

Argentina, however, does not rely solely on Caffaro. Argentina employs a balanced attack which saw three other players scoring in double digits in the FIBA Americas Under-18. 6’2 point guard Marco Giordano averaged a team high 18.5 points while providing a steady presence in the backcourt with his 3.8 assists per game. Versatile 6’5 guard Juan De la Fuente contributed 11.5 points and 5.2 boards per outing. 6’3 Juan Ignacio Marcos alternated with Giordano in handling the point guard chores for Argentina and normed 14.8 points and 4 assists per game.

(Images from FIBA)

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