With the FIBA World Cup starting tomorrow, basketball fever is once again at its highest. The Philippines, having qualified for the first time in 36 years by placing second in the FIBA Asia Championship last year, is one of the 24 teams that will be fighting for a podium finish in the World Championship.
Through the FIBA draw last February, the Philippines finds itself placed in Group B. The group houses perennial powerhouse teams Argentina and Greece, as well as Croatia, Puerto Rico, and Senegal. Only four of the six teams per group can advance to the knockout stage. To do this, Gilas Pilipinas needs to win at least two of its five matches in the group stage.
What are the chances of our Gilas team of advancing to the next round of the World Cup? We preview the teams that the men in sun and stars will be facing in the group stage.
The Puerto Rico basketball national team is one of the most consistent teams in most editions of the FIBA World Cup, previously known as the FIBA World Championships, appearing 17 times since 1957 and missing just two tournaments in that span. Fresh from bagging the silver at the 2013 FIBA Americas Championship in Venezuela, the Puerto Ricans are highly motivated to have a good showing in this year’s FIBA World Cup in Spain.
Known as “Los Doce Magnificos”- translated to The Magnificent Twelve – the Puerto Ricans will be bringing a veteran roster led by current and former NBA players including Jose Juan Barea, Carlos Arroyo and Renaldo Balkman. With a relatively healthy and intact roster led by Coach Paco Olmos, the Puerto Ricans should be a major force in the upcoming tournament.
The focus will squarely be on Puerto Rico’s talented backcourt of Jose Juan Barea and Carlos Arroyo which will become a key factor for the team. Arroyo, a former NBA playmaker, who now plays for Galatasaray team in the Turkish league, continues to be an awesome two-way player in FIBA hoops, despite already being 35 years old. He is one of the quickest point guards for the team and a prolific scorer especially from the perimeter. He shot an average of 44% from beyond the arc in the 2013 FIBA Americas while also norming around 4 assists and 2 steals per outing.
JJ Barea is also a terrific point guard for the Puerto Ricans. Barea is a proven scorer and floor-general for the Minnesota Timberwolves or the international scene. The spitfire point guard averaged 8.4 points and 3.8 assists last season in Minnesota. Even better, he has upped that to 15.6 points and 4.2 assists while wearing the Puerto Rican uniform at the 2013 FIBA Americas.
Another player to watch out for is Renaldo Balkman. Balkman, who was a former NBA veteran, also played as a PBA import for the Petron Blaze Boosters. He will be remembered as the import who tried to choke his teammate Arwind Santos in 2013, and it will surely be an interesting affair when he faces Gilas Pilipinas in group play. He is a force to be reckoned with for the Puerto Ricans with his pure strength and athleticism. He’ll certainly make life tough for our bigs, though. Balkman was a double-double threat in the 2013 FIBA Americas averaging around 19 points, 9 rebounds, 3 steals, and 1 block per game. He shot an incredible 83% from the floor as well.
How will Gilas match up against the Puerto Ricans? In terms of size, we match-up better with the Puerto Ricans but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll have an easier time against this squad. Gilas’ big men need to step up defensively against the versatile forwards of Puerto Rico. Balkman will be a major force for Puerto Rico and a major headache for Gilas Pilipinas. He should match-up pretty well with Andray Blatche, in spite of the fact the former is giving up a few inches in size.
Despite not having a platoon of superbly dominant big men, the “Los Doce Magnificos” is still pretty dangerous thanks to its backcourt firepower. It’ll be really exciting to watch Barea and Arroyo square off against our very own Jayson Castro, LA Tenorio, Jimmy Alapag, and Paul Lee. It’ll be speed vs. speed and shooting vs. shooting. It should be great entertainment for both teams.
Outside shooting could be a vital key for Gilas so who whoever shoots the lights out between the two squads should come out on top. In this regard, Jeff Chan, Ranidel De Ocampo, Gary David, and even Gabe Norwood should be on-target from beyond the arc.