Counting their tune-up game last July 8 versus the Mighty Sports squad that eventually won the Jones Cup, Gilas Pilipinas has played a total of five games in their quest to get ready for the FIBA World Cup 2019 which will begin on August 31 in China.
The Philippine national team has not seen a full complement of players in any of their five games. Andray Blatche was still not in the country when they played Mighty and the Gilas players currently competing in the PBA finals plus Kiefer Ravena missed out on the four games they played in Spain where they faced Congo and the World Cup-bound Ivory Coast.
The teams that Gilas Pilipinas will be facing in Group D of the World Cup have also been hard at work. Italy, which Gilas will be facing in its first game on August 31, kicked off their preparation by hosting the Trentino Basket Cup, a four-team pocket tournament which also featured the Ivory Coast, Switzerland, and Romania.
In their first game last July 30, the team known as the Azzuris defeated Romania, 88-60. Sitting out the game were team captain Gigi Datome and NBA veterans Marco Bellineli and Danilo Gallinari. Six-foot-seven guard-forward Alessandro Gentile, who was drafted in 2014 by the Minnesota Timberwolves, led the Italians with 14 points. The Italians bagged the championship when they beat the Ivory Coast in the finals, 69-58. Gentile once again topped the scoring with 22 points to bag tournament MVP honors.
Italy continued their march by hosting the Verona Cup during the 2nd week of August. They blasted Senegal in their first game, 111-54. This time, it was point guard Luca Vitali who led the way with 14 points. The Italians finally tasted defeat when they were beaten by Russia in a game where Bellineli contributed 11 points. The host team ended the tournament with a 72-54 victory over Venezuela which saw 6’7 Awudu Abass, whose mother hails from Ghana and whose father is from Nigeria, topscoring for the Italians with 16 points.
The Italians will look to intensify their training even further next week when they join a pocket tournament in Athens where they will be battling the host team Greece, Turkey, and Serbia.
The team favored to top Group D and touted to be the biggest threat to end the dominance of the United States, Serbia has also been dead-serious in their World Cup preparations. They won their tune-up game last August 4 versus Serbian professional club, KK Borac Cacak, 97-66. Nemanja Bjelica, a 6’10 power forward with the Sacramento Kings, led the way with 19 points while 7’0 Miroslav Raduljica who plays for Jiangsu Dragons in China tallied 18 markers.
The Serbians followed this up with another easy 95-75 win over Finland last August 8. Two days later, the Serbians, also known as the Beli Orlovi or the White Eagles, faced their first real test when they hosted Jonas Valanciunas and Lithuania.
Serbia prevailed, 72-68, with 6’6 shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Sacramento Kings, named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team in 2018, torching Lithuania with 18 points. The two teams faced each other in a rematch last August 12 with Serbia again escaping with a 95-91 triumph. Bogdanovic defied all defenders sent to shadow him as he erupted for 27 points.
Serbia also made a stopover in Greece before flying to China. They also faced Turkey in their first game in the Acropolis International Tournament.
Perennial African powerhouse Angola is using Asia as its training ground for the FIBA World Cup. The Angolans are currently playing in the 2019 International Men’s Basketball Challenge in Kunshan, China. They faced the host team in their opening game. China won over Angola, 73-62. Six-foot-eleven center Yanick Moreira, a product of the SMU Mustangs in the US NCAA who has also played in the NBA Summer League in 2015 and 2016, paced the Angolans with 11 points.
Angola bounced back from their opening game loss with a 93-73 win over Croatia in their second game. Angola will resume their World Cup preparations when they join another pocket tournament in South Korea.
Gilas Pilipinas has two more tune-up games on August 23 and August 25 against the Adelaide 36ers, a top Australian ballclub which placed 5th in the National Basketball League in the 2018-19 season and was the NBL runner-up in the 2017-18 season.