Gilas Pilipinas, a collection of the Philippines’ best basketball players, has just arrived in Melbourne City for a chance to qualify into the FIBA World Cup in 2019. But first they need to face reigning FIBA Asia champions Australian Boomers at Margaret Court Arena on Thursday February 22.
In a David vs. Goliath match up, the highly touted Australians are heavily favoured to outmuscle the smaller but speedier Filipinos. However, Gilas Pilipinas have plenty of heart and are looking to upset the much fancied Boomers on their home soil.
Currently ranked 30th in the world, Gilas Pilipinas is coached by the experienced Chot Reyes. The squad consists of professional players from the Philippine Basketball Association, including three-time MVP June Mar Fajardo, ASEAN star Jayson Castro William and naturalised former NBA player Andre Blatche.
Australia, ranked 10th overall, has a number of superstars playing in the NBA, including Patty Mills (San Antonio Spurs), Dante Exum and Joe Ingles (Utah Jazz), Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers), Aron Baynes (Boston Celtics), Thon Maker and Matthew Delladova (Milwaukee Bucks). None of them are expected to play because the NBA season is still in progress.
Instead the Boomers will rely on local NBL talent, which goes to show the depth of the Australians. Angus Brandt, Chris Goulding, Mitch Creek and Kevin Lisch will anchor the Aussie contingent.
Without Australia’s NBA stars, this could be the Philippines’ only opportunity to try and close the gap and beat such world-class opponent.
According to Boomers coach Andrew Lemanis, the upcoming matchup won’t be a walkover.
“The Philippines are a very, very good basketball team,” Lemanis said. “I think that is sometimes lost on the general public. There seems to be this perception that we’ll just walk through the Asia zone.
“People don’t understand how good international basketball is, they don’t give these teams the credit they deserve.”
The Philippines has been bracketed in Group B with Australia, Japan and Chinese Taipei.
Gilas Pilipinas (14-man squad): June Mar Fajardo, Andray Blatche, Jayson Castro William, Matthew Wright, Calvin Abueva, Gabe Norwood, Japeth Aguilar, Keifer Ravena, Roger Pogoy, Kevin Alas, Andray Blatche, Jio Jalalon, Allein Maliksi, Carl Bryan Cruz, Abu Tratter
Australian Boomers: Angus Brandt, Cameron Giddon, Jason Cadee, Mitch Creek, Nick Kay, Kevin Lisch, Daniel Kickert, Jesse Wagstaff, Nathan Sobey, Chris McCarron, Matt Hodgson, Chris Goulding