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Elite foes await Filipino cagers

A stellar cast of competitors is tipped to make life difficult for Gilas Pilipinas when it competes in the FIBA Basketball World Cup that the country will host from 25 August to 10 September.

Group stage foes Italy, Dominican Republic and Angola are all expected to parade elite players to spoil the Filipinos’ bid of coming up with a solid performance in the 32-nation tournament.

Gilas are looking to dominate the pool stage to emerge as the top Asian team that will give them an automatic ticket to the Paris Olympics next year.

But the battle will not be easy.

Italy will be headed by Simone Fontecchio, a 6-foot-8 forward who shared minutes with naturalized player Jordan Clarkson at the Utah Jazz in the ongoing season of the National Basketball Association.

Fontecchio averaged 21 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists on an impressive 71 percent three-point shooting when he played for the Italians in the first and second windows of the FIBA World Cup European Qualifiers last week.

Dominican Republic, meanwhile, will be bannered by Karl-Anthony Towns, a 6-foot-9 center who made his intention to make an international return since representing his country in the FIBA America Cup in 2013.

Not to be outdone, Angola will be helmed by Bruno Fernando, a 6-foot-9 forward who had stellar stints with the Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks in the ongoing NBA season.

Fernando played in the second window of the World Cup African Qualifiers last year, where  he averaged 11.3 points and 6.3 rebounds.

In the previous World Cup in China, Italy, then bannered by NBA stars Danilo Gallinari and Marco Bellinelli, crushed the Filipinos, 108-62, while Angola pushed them to the limit before booking a scary 84-81 win in overtime.

This time, the Filipinos are expected to show up prepared as they are scheduled to open training camps in Laguna, Estonia and Lithuania before flying to China for a warm-up tournament.

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