MANILA, Philippines -- Gilas Pilipinas coach Nenad Vucinic has seen improvement in the national team during their build-up to the third window of the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers, but he also noted that there is plenty of work left to do for the squad.
Serbia's Vucinic will be calling the shots for Gilas in the upcoming window, where they will play New Zealand on June 30 at the EventFinda stadium in Auckland, before hosting India at the Mall of Asia Arena on July 3.
Gilas will bring a 1-1 win-loss record into the window, having beaten India but losing to New Zealand in February. South Korea, the other team in Group A, has been disqualified after failing to send a team in the second window over COVID-19 issues.
"They've done well, but they're a long way to go," Vucinic said of the national team in a report on the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) website.
"Every next [game] is more difficult, and it's up to them to really work hard, to overcome the deficiencies that they have," he added.
Vucinic will have a young squad for the upcoming window, with NLEX/Shiga guard Kiefer Ravena serving as the veteran and the team captain. Also included are Gilas cadet Will Navarro, Japan-based professional Dwight Ramos, and the backcourt pair of RJ Abarrientos and SJ Belangel, who recently signed with teams in the Korean Basketball League.
The rest of the squad are amateurs: Rhenz Abando, Geo Chiu, Dave Ildefonso, Francis Lopez, Kevin Quiambao, and Carl Tamayo. They will not have naturalized center Ange Kouame in the fold as the Ateneo de Manila University big man is recovering from a partial ACL tear and a meniscus sprain.
Their build-up to the qualifiers included a pair of close losses to the South Korean national team, which nonetheless boosted the spirits of the team. Despite playing without Kouame, Gilas lost by only four points in both games, 96-92 and 106-102. They also got a strong performance from Ramos in the second exhibition match, as he torched Korea for 31 points.
As much as the squad has improved, however, Vucinic also warned that they are still in the process of growing and developing together.
"It's important also for our public not to put too [many] expectations on them because they’re still very young and inexperienced players at the international level," the coach said.
"What we're trying to achieve is first, team spirit – a character for the team to play hard against any opposition," he also said. "We want to see players that are possible for the future of the Gilas, maybe even in the World Cup, how they perform at the highest level."
The national team flies to New Zealand on Monday.