While attending to Gilas Pilipinas' gold medal redemption bid in the Southeast Asian Games, national coach Chot Reyes is also working double time in ensuring the Philippines gets the much-needed size in their Fiba Basketball World Cup buildup slated this late August.
Reyes said getting the needed big men for Gilas is foremost in his mind, noting that the Philippines' group mates in the FIBA World Cup led by world no. 10 Italy, Dominican Republic and Angola all have the size to contend with.
“Our first area of concern is our size,” Reyes said during his recent appearance at former PBA commissioner Noli Eala's Power and Play sports program. “Our three big men are all injured, Japeth (Aguilar), June Mar (Fajardo) and AJ Edu are all injured. They are not all 100 percent at this point, so hopefully, in a couple of months' time, they get to 100 percent shape.”
Reyes said 7-foot-3 young Filipino big man Kai Sotto has expressed his commitment to play for Gilas in the World Cup. However, the Gilas mentor mentioned there are “other factors” they need to consider.
“He (Sotto) has personally given his commitment (to play for Gilas), but between you and me, there are other factors surrounding that as well,” he stressed.
Sotto played for Gilas during the fourth window of the 2023 Fiba World Cup Asian qualifiers in August 2022. The son of former PBA big man Ervin Sotto averaged 13 points and 10.5 rebounds, teaming up with former NBA Sixth Man of the Year awardee Jordan Clarkson to help the Philippines split its two-game assignment.
The Philippines dropped an 81-85 decision to Lebanon in Beirut, before coming out with a vengeful 84-46 demolition of the visiting Saudi Arabia in Manila.
Reyes feels without Sotto and the three other injured bigs., the Philippines' chances of at least winning one game in the group stage of the Fiba World Cup would be next to impossible.
“For me, that's (getting the big men) our no. 1 concern. We need to be able to shore up and solve our frontline situation very quickly,” he stressed. “Without the big men, we will really have a hard time. Everything else will fall into place as long as we have that backbone, that anchor.”
Reyes recalled that Gilas Pilipinas managed to put up a strong fight against world class national squads like Croatia, Argentina, Greece and Puerto Rico due to the presence of 6-foot-10 naturalized player Andray Blatche.
Blatche, the former Brooklyn Nets big man, averaged a tournament-best 13.8 rebounds, while his energy and hustle helped the Philippines finish among the top five rebounding squads in the 2014 Fiba World Cup behind eventual champion United States, Angola, Dominican Republic and New Zealand.
“If you remember, we were able to give a good fight in 2014 because Andray Blatche gave us that inside presence, that seven-foot versatile player,” he said. “In fact, we were one of the tallest in the group in the World Cup and we led in the World Cup in rebounding because Andray Blatche was our no. 1 rebounder.”
The outspoken Gilas mentor said if the national team can replicate what the national team did way back in 2014, then winning is very much possible in this year's World Cup.
The Philippines closed its 2014 Fiba World Cup campaign with an 81-79 overtime thriller of a win against Senegal.
Gilas Pilipinas, which will hold its training camp in Lithuania, opens the 2023 Fiba World Cup against Dominican Republic on August 25, ranked 23rd in the world at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.
The national squad's next two matches will both be played at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, starting with Angola on August 27, followed by Italy two days later.
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