New era dawns for Gilas, as Kiefer and co. open FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers


Posted at Feb 23 2020 06:12 AM

Kiefer Ravena hopes this relatively new version of the Philippines men’s national basketball team — injected with fresh faces and reinforced with experienced names — gets off to a proper, winning note.

Gilas Pilipinas opens its 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifying campaign when the Filipinos play Indonesia in Jakarta Sunday night.

Ravena, playing national-team captain for the first time in a continental tier competition, said the squad is eager to show what it can do despite its youth.

Game time is at 7 p.m., Manila time.

“Everybody wants to prove something,” the playmaker said.

“We’re gonna play as hard as we can and we’ll not let up on anything. That’s what we’re trying to build as a culture, not leaving any stone unturned.”

While World Cup veterans Ravena, CJ Perez, Roger Pogoy and Troy Rosario were named to the squad seeing action at Britama Arena, Sportmall Kelapa Gading, they’ll be surrounded by teammates who haven’t had that level of international exposure.

Three-time UAAP champions Thirdy Ravena, Matt Nieto and Isaac Go were called up, as were first-year Ateneo player Dwight Ramos and top collegiate point-guard Juan Gomez de Liaño.

Completing the cast are PBA veterans Poy Erram, Justin Chua and Abu Tratter.

Gilas head coach Mark Dickel, hired with an interim tag, acknowledged it’s hard to say how well the players are going to mesh.

“You’re always concerned because you don’t know how it’s gonna look in the game, but I’m feeling more and more confident each day,” Dickel said.

“The guys seem to understand more what we’re trying to get them to do.”

On paper, the Philippines, No. 31 in the world, should have no trouble in their Group A clash against Indonesia, which is more than 50 places lower than Gilas in the FIBA rankings. 

At the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, the Filipinos came away with a 97-70 rout against a side considered their closest regional rival.

But Dickel knows it would be foolish to underestimate a squad coached by Rajko Toroman, who once called the shots for Gilas and is known to turn around a country’s basketball program.

Even though it lost its first game in these qualifiers to South Korea 109-76, Indonesia had a solid start before being overwhelmed by the team that earned the bronze in the 2017 Asia Cup.

“It’s a new team and we’ve gotta come out and try to play different,” Dickel said. 

“I’d definitely like to get the same results that that SEA Games got, but we’ve got different personnel. So we’re gonna have to go about it differently.”

Ravena is a tad more convinced that Gilas is in position to make some noise in the tournament. 

“We’re looking great right now. Slowly but surely, we’re looking like a team,” he said.

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