Gilas Pilipinas will try to use its size advantage against a crack Jordan team when it sees action in the fifth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers at the Prince Hamzah Hall in Amman on Thursday night (Friday in Manila).
With a frontcourt bannered by 7-foot-3 Kai Sotto, 6-foor-10 naturalized player Ange Kouame, and 6-foot-9 forward Japeth Aguilar, the Philippines is out to impose its will in the shaded lane to clinch the victory and redeem itself from a painful 85-81 loss to Lebanon in its previous road game in Beirut last August.
Sotto, the 20-year-old slotman who plays for the Adelaide 36ers in the National Basketball League in Australia, will join forces with the Ivorian Kouame, who patrols the shaded lanes for Ateneo de Manila University in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines.
Both Sotto and Kouame will be playing together for the first time since terrorizing the paint when Gilas Pilipinas defeated South Korea twice in the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers in Pampanga last year.
This will also be the first time that they will play under head coach Chot Reyes, who is a well-known motivator.
On the other hand, Aguilar, who plays the center and forward positions for Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, could use his athleticism to the fullest over shorter defenders at the wing spot.
Now the acknowledge senior statesman of the team, the 34-year-old national team mainstay will be playing a bigger role as he is tipped to provide the experience and leadership to the squad that is out to draw the support of countless Filipino migrant workers in the Middle East.
After Jordan, Gilas will take on Saudi Arabia at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on Sunday night (Monday in Manila).
Aside from its height advantage, the Philippines is also expected to display its versatility on both ends.
Without a natural point guard following the exclusion of Kiefer Ravena, who was unable to join due to an emergency dental procedure, the playmaking chore will be divided among Japan B. League stalwarts Dwight Ramos and Ray Parks as well as Philippine Basketball Association stars CJ Perez of San Miguel Beer and Scottie Thompson of Ginebra.
Even Calvin Oftana of TNT Tropang Giga, the 6-foot-5 sophomore forward, has some good handles and capable of bringing up the ball, enabling him to create mismatches against smaller guards.
For Perez, it’s a new challenge for him.
“It’s going to make me a better player. Over the past few practices, I was able to learn how to play the point guard for the team,” Perez told Daily Tribune.
Other players who want to make a good impression in the fifth window are Roger Pogoy and Poy Erram of TNT, Thirdy Ravena, another B. League stalwart, Jamie Malonzo of Ginebra and Kevin Quiambao of De La Salle University, the only other collegiate player aside from Kouame.
Only one among the pool players won’t be able to make the final 12.
The Philippines plays a Jordan team that is expected to be led by Dar Tucker, one of its two naturalized players and a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, Freddie Ibrahim and 6-foot-10 Ahmad Al-Dwairi.
“We know them pretty well, we don’t know who their final line up is, same with us. What we know about them is the 20-man preliminary list they’ve submitted,” Reyes said.
“Freddie Ibrahim is like their own version of (Wael) Arakji from Lebanon.”