Snapping their misfortune in the international stage will be the ultimate mission when Gilas Pilipinas faces Lebanon in the fourth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifier Friday at the Nouhad Nawfal Sports Complex in Beirut.
With National Basketball Association stalwart Jordan Clarkson and Kai Sotto at the helm, the Filipinos will hit the court at 2 a.m. (Manila time), eager to prove themselves anew and gun for a victory that will put a screeching halt to their string of international heartaches.
Only 12 in the 13-man pool will be listed in the official roster, making it tough for Gilas tactician Chot Reyes to choose who will sit out among Gilas mainstays Dwight Ramos, Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena, Ray Parks and Carl Tamayo.
Also in the pool are Philippine Basketball Association stars Scottie Thompson and Japeth Aguilar of Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, Calvin Oftana of NLEX and newcomers Chris Newsome of Meralco, Jaime Malonzo of NorthPort and free-agent Roosevelt Adams.
The Philippines is sporting a 2-2 card with its only wins coming at the expense of India while suffering lopsided losses to powerhouse New Zealand in the previous windows of this tourney that stakes tickets to the FIBA World Cup next year.
Outside the qualifiers, the Filipinos are struggling as well.
They suffered forgettable finishes in the FIBA Asia Cup and the 31st Southeast Asian Games, prompting the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas to regroup and solicit the support of all stakeholders to assemble a team that will redeem the country’s shattered pride in the international stage.
With new talents composed of Utah Jazz swingman Clarkson, Thompson, Malonzo and Newsome in the backcourt, Filipino fans can expect a fast-paced ball movement, airtight defense and fluid attacks never before seen in the previous Gilas squad.
Sotto said it’s about time for them to flex their muscles and prove that they are among the best players in Asia.
“We’ve been through some challenges this past couple of games and it’s going to be exciting for us to come back to show that we belong at the top stage,” said Sotto, who joined Gilas in a light workout shortly after arriving in Beirut on Wednesday.
But Lebanon is also serious in clinching the victory.
Eager to punch a historic spot in the FIBA World Cup next year, the Cedars will deploy their mighty roster that won the silver medal in the FIBA Asia Cup in Jakarta last month.
Led by FIBA Asia Cup Most Valuable Player Wael Arakji, Lebanon crushed undermanned Gilas, 95-80, in their opening battle.
Lebanon will march with heavy advantage from the crowd as they have never lost one of their previous six games at home.
The defensive-minded squad has an average winning margin of 35.8 points per game at home and no other team came closer than 19 points.
The Cedars also have the numbers on their head-to-head matchup in the qualifiers, enjoying a 54.4 percent field goal accuracy and 37 percent rating beyond at the three-point area.
Gilas, meanwhile, have been firing on a 48.6 percent shooting, but comes with a paltry 21.6 shooting from deep.
With Arakji leading the offense, tactician Jad El Hajj is expected to spearhead naturalized big man Jonathan Arledge and mainstays Sergio El Darwich, Hayk Gyokchyan and Ali Haidar.
“Being able to reach second place in Asia now shows that Lebanon will never die. There are always people who will fight for Lebanon,” Arakji said in a previous interview.