WUHAN, China—Smart Gilas Pilipinas sets out to gain a headstart in its chase for the lone continental ticket to the 2012 next year when it tackles the United Arab Emirates in Thursday’s opener of the Fiba Asia Championship here.
Though the national five demolished UAE in several encounters previously, head coach Rajko Toroman isn’t taking chances in their ambitious quest to end four decades of futility in Olympic qualifiers.
The Serbian mentor, who steered Iran to the 2007 Fiba Asia Championship crown for a stint in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, is expected to go full throttle with a slew of crack role players at his disposal.
“If you underestimate them (UAE), we’ll be in serious trouble,” said Toroman.
“We beat them by 35 points (in the Jones Cup) but… they now have their best shooter, a couple of athletic wingmen and big guys who can shoot from the outside.”
The Nationals will counter the UAE threat with size—Marcus Douthit, Asi Taulava, Kelly Williams, Ranidel De Ocampo and Japeth Aguilar—as well as with speed and shooting anchored on guards Jimmy Alapag, Chris Tiu, Mark Barroca, JV Casio, Marcio Lassiter and Chris Lutz.
Toroman remained undecided on who to tap between Dylan Ababou or Mac Baracael as the 12th man in the final Philippine lineup after the Fiba Asia manager’s meeting Wednesday.
Casio, still recuperating from a knee injury, has shown signs of progress in practice and could get the green light to suit up.
The beefy, 6-foot-10 Douthit said he’s “excited” how the team will mesh. His team-up with the 6-7 Williams and the 6-6 De Ocampo could provide stability in the frontline.
“I’m more comfortable with them in the lineup,” said Douthit of De Ocampo and Williams. “Now I don’t have to worry about the power forward position.”
The national team, which last saw action in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, can now bang it up in the paint, something it could not do in the Asian Games last year.
Clustered in Group D, the Filipinos will face host China and Bahrain in the next two days.
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