The newfound chemistry and firepower of Gilas Pilipinas will be put to an ultimate test when it battles dangerous Jordan in the sixth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers on Monday at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.
Action kicks off at 6 p.m. with Gilas looking to come up with a strong finish in their rollercoaster campaign in this tourney that serves as a gateway to the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup next year in Manila, Jakarta and Tokyo.
In their previous game against Lebanon, the new faces of Gilas like naturalized player Justin Brownlee, Jamie Malonzo, Mason Amos and Jordan Heading didn’t have a hard time blending in with the rest of the squad as they wound up in double figures to power the Filipinos to an easy 107-96 victory.
Brownlee fired 17 points, pulled down four rebounds and dished out five assists while Malonzo and Amos plugged the gaping hole at the middle created by the absence of mainstays Kai Sotto, Japeth Aguilar, Carl Tamayo and Raymond Almazan.
Malonzo delivered 15 points on top of several highlight reels while Amos, the youngest player in the team at 18, showed a lot of promise by coming away with 13 points on a perfect 3-of-3 shooting from the rainbow territory.
Heading, a previous member of the Gilas side under Tab Baldwin, returned with a bang as he contributed 10 points while proving that he remains an effective floor spacer in a team that lacks legitimate threat from the post outside six-time Philippine Basketball Association Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo.
Gilas head coach Chot Reyes said the emergence of Malonzo and Amos gave them the flexibility against a Lebanese side that was also missing the services of top guns in Wael Arakji, Jonathan Arledge and Norvel Pelle.
“Jamie and Mason are the only other big guys coming off the bench in the absence of our big players,” Reyes said, adding that the incoming Ateneo de Manila University rookie remains a work in progress.
“Mason is only 18. He still has a lot to learn and a lot to develop, especially on defense. You can see his shooting prowess for a big man and that’s the weapon that we need and exploit moving forward.”
But against a dangerous Jordan squad, Gilas are expected to be pushed to the limit.
Although the Jordanians already punched a ticket to the World Cup courtesy of the 110-63 victory of New Zealand over Saudi Arabia, they are still expected to go all out to gain momentum heading into the world’s biggest basketball event outside the Summer Olympics.
It will be the second consecutive and third overall World Cup appearance of Jordan, which currently has 4-4 in the standings.
Aside from Jordan and co-hosts Philippines and Japan, also already qualified in the World Cup in Asia are Lebanon, New Zealand, Australia and China, leaving one spot up for grabs.
Jordan is coming into its match with Gilas oozing with momentum after pocketing a 98-63 victory over India at the Sree Kanteerava Indoor Stadium in Bengaluru with Freddie Ibrahim dropping 21 points and 13 assists.
Ibrahim, a 6-foot-2 Jordanian-Canadian gunner, is tipped to lead the assault against Gilas Pilipinas together with Ahmad Alhamarsheh and Mahammad Hussein.
Reyes said they may not be as talented as their lineup that defeated Jordan, 74-66, in their previous battle on 11 November, but they will definitely work hard to pull off the win.
“We may not be as talented as the previous line ups,” Reyes, who drew 16 points, seven rebounds and two blocks from Sotto in their previous outing against the Jordanians, said.
“We’re in an unfamiliar situation, we hardly had practice, very limited preparation time. In situations like this, the best way to address this is to come together and believe in each other.”
“Jordan is another story altogether. But we’re building and generating momentum from this. But that’s the program we do. We wanted to have a core group of guys who are familiar with each other and understand the system and bring in a few guys here and there and then take a look, perhaps in the final formation of the roster come August, hopefully, we’ll have the best team, not the best collection of individual talents, forming our national team.”