Gilas Pilipinas will be playing in Foshan, China in the FIBA World Cup after finding itself in Group D with two European teams, Serbia and Italy, and the most dominant team in Africa in the last three decades, Angola.
In this three-part series, we will look at how Gilas Pilipinas matches up with each of the teams it will be facing.
Italy (World No. 13 in the FIBA World Rankings)
– FIBA World Cup: 9th place (2006)
– Olympics: 2nd place (2004)
– EuroBasket: 7th place (2017), 6th place (2015)
Italy will look to make some noise this year in China after missing the previous two editions of the World Cup. They will seek to reclaim their glory days from the early part of the previous decade when the team placed fifth in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, bagged the silver in the 2004 Athens Olympics, and nipped France for third place in the 2003 FIBA EuroBasket. Things have not gone smoothly for Italy since then, even failing fo qualify for the last three stagings of the Olympics.
In the qualifiers, Italy finished second in Group J, but they can boast that it posted wins against all five teams in their group. They defeated Croatia in an away game, 80-64, and were also solid in their home floor where they blasted Poland, 101-82, and nipped Lithuania, 70-65. Leading the charge for the troops of coach Romeo Sacchetti was Ghana native Awudu Abass, a 6’7 forward who saw action in all 12 games and averaged 10.3 points. 25-year-old 6’4 point guard Amedeo Dela Valle was the team’s top gun as he scored 17.8 points a game. Dela Valle’s backcourt partner was 6’5 Pietro Aradori, who contributed 9.6 points in 10 games.
One possible area where Gilas Pilipinas might have a slight advantage over Italy would be in the low block. Since the departure of 7’0 NBA veteran Andrea Bargnani from the basketball scene in 2017, the team known as the ‘Azzurri’ has had a gaping hole in the center position. 6’8 Nicolo Melli, who plays power forward for his club Fenerbahçe in the Turkish league, has been the designated starting slotman for Italy. Alternating with Melli is 6’7 Italian-Cameroonian Paul Biligha. For the World Cup, coach Sacchetti will have to choose between two naturalized American-Italians who played in the qualifiers: Jeff Brooks, a versatile 6’8 forward who played US NCAA Division I basketball for Penn State, or the wide-bodied 6’8 power forward Christian Burns.
The difference-maker for the Italians just might be 6’8 veteran Luigi Datome (Fenerbahçe, Turkey) who played for the Detroit Pistons and the Boston Celtics in the NBA from 2013-2015. Datome averaged 16 points and 6 rebounds in two games during the qualifiers. 6’6 guard/forward Alessandro Gentile, selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2014 draft, averaged nine points in six games in the qualifiers and could be another key contributor for the Italians in the World Cup. Expected to share backcourt duties with Dela Valle is 6’6 Daniel Hackett, born to an American father and an Italian mother in Pesaro, Italy. Hacket played US NCAA Division 1 basketball for the University of Southern California Trojans and currently plays professional ball for Russian powerhouse CSKA Moscow.
Neither Danilo Gallinari nor Marco Belinelli played for Italy in the qualifiers. If the two of them suit up in the World Cup, then it might just be enough to cover-up the frontline deficiencies of the Azzuri as they will have two legitimate NBA-caliber scorers who will be causing opposing defenses a lot of problems. The 6’10 Gallinari, who averages 19.4 points and six boards as a starter for the Los Angeles Clippers, may be too strong at small forward for Gabe Norwood and too mobile at power forward for the likes of Japeth Agular and Troy Rosario to cover. The 6’5 Belinelli, a 12-year veteran who scores 10.5 off the bench for the San Antonio Spurs, might just be too big and too wily for Marcio Lassiter and RR Pogoy, who are both listed at 6’2.
Although Gilas Pilipinas will still be the considerable underdogs against Italy, the chances to pull off an upset might just be better as against the chances versus Serbia. Against the Azzurri, Gilas Pilipinas will need June Mar Fajardo to establish his presence down low. At his best, Fajardo will be a handful for the Italian bigs especially if they make the mistake of defending ‘The Kraken’ with a single coverage. Just ask 6’10 Australian center Angus Brandt, who could not contain Fajardo one-on-one in the first meeting between the Philippines and Australia in the qualifers. A twin tower combination featuring Fajardo and Andray Blatche will possibly offset the advantages at the wings posed by Gallinari and Belinelli. If Gilas Pilipinas can impose its running game built on a threatening inside game, then the chances for the Philippines to win might just go up to 50-50.