Chot Reyes is ‘very optimistic’ about Gilas Pilipinas’ chances of stealing a game or two against its Group D foes in the FIBA World Cup come August.
Reyes, who coached the national team back in 2014 to its first win on the world stage in 40 years, sees the stars aligning for the Philippines, which is grouped with European powers Serbia and Italy and African contenders Angola.
The optimism mostly stems from the fact that that there’s only one team in the group — world No. 4 Serbia — seeded within the top 10 of the FIBA rankings this time around.
“Although they’re a very strong team, I think Angola is beatable the way we were able to defeat Senegal before. Italy will be tough, but I don’t think they’re as strong as Argentina or Greece. I think may chance tayo diyan,” he explained.
The Serbians are expected to give Gilas an incredibly difficult time right from the opening tip, but Reyes thinks an upset might still be within the realm of possibility given that the 2014 Philippine quintet took another Euro powerhouse in Croatia to overtime before losing.
“Serbia admittedly will be very very tough. If Italy is tough, Serbia is very very tough. Parang Croatia naman yan dati sa atin. But then ‘yung Croatia we took them to overtime. ‘Di mo talaga masasabi eh,” Reyes added.
However, Reyes said that it would all boil down to the level of preparation that coach Yeng Guiao and the rest of the team will be afforded four months before the World Cup proper.
In 2014, Gilas was able to play in a pocket tournament in Europe during their own build-up. While they lost a slew of games to France, Ukraine, Australia, Venezuela and Dominican Rebublic, the team was able to familiarize themselves with how their non-Asian counterparts carried themselves on the floor.
Reyes hopes that Guiao gets to have that same opportunity for his boys.
“Kasi nung nag-pocket tournament kami, when we played France, dinikitan kami until the last quater pero the next day binugbog kami ng Ukraine, and then binugbog kami ng Australia. Pero it was fine because na-feel namin na binugbog kami. But when we got to down to Madrid and Gudalajara, sinabayan naman namin ‘yung [Argentina], [Puerto Rico], all those strong teams,” Reyes explained.
“Talo pa rin, pero at least sumasabay, nafe-feel ng players gumagaling sila, lumalakas sila, nakakasabay,” he continued. “And I think that feeling spilled over sa actual World Cup. So nung pagdating nung actual laban, the players had a very good feeling about themselves.”
“It’s very important for this team to get that same feeling going into the competition. They should have a good feeling about gemselves that they can compete with anybody, with those teams we’re playing against.”
A few things that could help make Gilas’ road a tad easier will be the new format that FIBA introduced in the showpiece. After all, lighter schedules and less opponents mean more rest and a better shot at advancing to the next round.
“Ang ganda ng schedule natin ngayon eh. Laro, pahinga. Laro, pahinga, laro, pahinga. Unlike before, every day may laro so mabubugbog talaga tayo. So that’s another positive for Gilas,” Reyes noted.
“‘Yun pa, we’re benefiting from better format now. Parang two wins lang to get through the next round. That’s why I think there’s a big possibility that we get those two wins. Like I said, I’m very optimistic.”
Overall, Reyes gives Guiao’s Gilas a better chance at going further in the tournament with a lot of factors working for them.
“We have proven before that we can compete and that there’s no reason with this team now, with the players that we have, with coach Yeng’s system, with Andray Blatche in shape, there’s no reason for us to improve on that previous one win in 2014. I think if we get to two wins, that might be enough to get us into the next round,” Reyes said.
The Philippines will start its World Cup campaign against Italy on August 31 in Foshan, China.