MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine men’s national basketball team will kick off their FIBA Asia Cup campaign in Japan with back-to-back tests, facing tough squads in China and Lebanon in their first two playdates.
Smart Gilas Pilipinas will take on China on Friday and Lebanon on Saturday as they jumpstart their Group A elimination round play.
National team head coach Chot Reyes told PBA.ph that he is looking forward to the FIBA Asia Cup even as Smart Gilas will be tested early.
But Reyes is not complaining about the tough early schedule. “It is what it is. It’s a good preparation for us,” he said.
The team is optimistic that they will make it to the knockout stage, starting with the final eight where they will be up against one of the other qualifiers from Group B, which is composed of the host team, Iran, Chinese-Taipei, Qater and India.
Gilas has played against Iran, Taiwan, Japan and Lebanon during their run to the gold medal in the recently concluded Jones Cup. They also played Qatar in a tune-up match last Saturday night at the Ynares Sports Arena .
Most of the members of the team will leave for Tokyo on Wednesday. Alaska’s Sonny Thoss will follow the next day.
Gilas will automatically qualify to the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships if they play in the top three of the Asia Cup. If not, they will have to go through the Southeast Asian Basketball Association qualfier.
China is expected to be a major contender in the Asia Cup, although it is not yet sure if they are fielding their Olympic team or their “Team B.”
Meanwhile, Lebanon team officials have confirmed that they will be fielding in a better squad than the one they brought in the Jones Cup. Long-time Lebanese star Fadi El-Khatib is expected to be among their reinforcements for Tokyo.