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2024 Summer Olympics

Midlife Halftime: Lessons learned from the Gilas friendlies

The three tune-up games that Gilas Pilipinas played served their purpose in the team’s preparations for the 2024 FIBA Paris Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Riga, Latvia from July 2-7.

The first match against the Mustangs of Taiwan on June 24 helped Gilas Pilipinas get their feet under them and gave fans a chance to send off the team before they began their European sojourn.

The two friendlies against Turkey and Poland were opportunities to gauge how the nationals match up and keep pace with tall, athletic, and skilled European teams. The in-form Poland squad is also joining the FIBA Paris OQT in Valencia, Spain.

Poland had already played four friendlies in June before facing Gilas. The Poles blasted New Zealand by 29 points, 88-59, and were competitive in losses to Brazil, Croatia, and Greece.

Valuable lessons were gained from the tune-up games that should serve Cone, his coaching staff, and the players well during the Olympic qualifiers.

Short Rotation

Gilas-vs.-Taiwan-Mason-Amos Midlife Halftime: Lessons learned from the Gilas friendlies 2024 Summer Olympics Bandwagon Wire Basketball Gilas Pilipinas  - philippine sports newsGilas Pilipinas will parade an 11-man lineup for the OQT after Scottie Thompson was ruled out with an injury.

Cone is known for sticking to a short rotation, so he should be able to work with just 11 able bodies on the roster.

The short rotation has been evident in the tune-up games with Cone mostly shuffling just 9 players. Kevin Quiambao and Mason Amos have barely gotten floor time, especially in the European friendlies.

The assumption seems to be that a short rotation should suffice for a short tournament in which each team will play a minimum of two games and a maximum of just four games.

The worrisome part is the quick turnaround between games. Gilas Pilipinas will open their campaign in the OQT against host Latvia on July 3 in Group A action. The very next day, on July 4, Gilas Pilipinas will be back on the court to take on Georgia. Gilas will not even have a day to rest and recover.

Assuming Gilas Pilipinas wins at least one game in the preliminary round and advances to the knockout stage, they will get a one-day respite before plunging back into action on July 6 for the crossover semifinals. The finals will take place the following day, on July 7.

In order for Gilas to grab the lone ticket in Riga to the Paris Olympics, the team will need to play four games in five days. This is a grueling schedule, even for well-conditioned professional athletes.

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Magic Bunot

Gilas-vs.-Taiwan-Kevin-Quiambao Midlife Halftime: Lessons learned from the Gilas friendlies 2024 Summer Olympics Bandwagon Wire Basketball Gilas Pilipinas  - philippine sports newsCone may arguably be the best tactician in the history of the PBA, but he will have to be at his absolute best in the OQT where he will be matching wits with two world-class basketball minds – Latvia’s Luca Banchi of Italy, who was named Best Coach of the 2023 FIBA World Cup, and Georgia’s Aleksandar Džikić of Serbia, an assistant coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves from 2005-07.

Given the caliber of coaching in the OQT, high-level scouting is expected to be employed by the coaching staff of all three teams in Group A, leaving very little room for surprises.

Latvia’s final roster has eight players who were part of the team that placed 5th in the FIBA World Cup. Conspicuously missing is 6-foot-8 power forward Andrejs Gražulis, who was Latvia’s leading scorer in the FIBA World Cup. Meanwhile, Georgia kept half of its World Cup squad.

Expect Cone to have some tricks up his sleeves that will catch his rival tacticians off guard. Only five players in Cone’s roster were in last year’s FIBA World Cup, so at least half the Philippine roster might be unknown entities.

Carl Tamayo and Chris Newsome would be the best bets to catch the opposition by surprise. Quiambao, if given the chance, can do damage from beyond the arc and with his playmaking.

Gilas Pilipinas will need contributions from unexpected sources, even if just in spurts, to keep the opposing teams guessing.

More Firepower

Gilas-vs.-Taiwan-Justin-Brownlee Midlife Halftime: Lessons learned from the Gilas friendlies 2024 Summer Olympics Bandwagon Wire Basketball Gilas Pilipinas  - philippine sports newsJustin Brownlee can score against any defense, against any team. That much has been established. He averaged 21 points in all three friendlies, even dropping 30 versus Poland.

But Brownlee alone will not be enough to topple a high-octane team like Latvia, which averaged 89 points per game in the FIBA World Cup.

Other than Brownlee, only Dwight Ramos and Junmar Fajardo contributed in double figures during the Gilas friendlies. Kai Sotto, who averaged 15.5 points during the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers, has not produced the same numbers when matched against bigger defenders in the build-up to the OQT.

Newsome, who has taken on the task of a defensive stopper whenever he plays for the national team, will have to summon the scoring abilities he showcases on a regular basis for Meralco in the PBA.

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The three-point shot is an essential weapon in the international game that Gilas has not shown thus far to be included in the team arsenal. For Gilas, connecting from beyond would draw the defense out and allow Fajardo and Sotto to operate down low. The Gilas Twin Towers actually might have a slight advantage in the post against the Latvian bigs who prefer operating on the outside. Against the bigger Georgians, Fajardo and Sotto have to establish themselves as threats and attack the opposing frontline.

Against Turkey, Gilas Pilipinas only made 5 triples from 15 attempts. Against Poland, the Filipinos connected on just 7 from 17 attempts. They will need to shoot better in the OQT.

Extra Effort

2024-FIBA-OQT-Gilas-Friendly-Gilas-vs-Poland Midlife Halftime: Lessons learned from the Gilas friendlies 2024 Summer Olympics Bandwagon Wire Basketball Gilas Pilipinas  - philippine sports news

(C) Wojciech Figurski/

During a timeout in the game against Poland, Cone made an impassioned appeal for the players to do their job on defense. He implored them to put in the extra effort because the level of competition they would be facing necessitates each member of the team to exert a bit more than what they are used to.

Though widely known as the master of the triangle, Cone is first and foremost a defensive coach who emphasizes stopping the opposing side from scoring. The extra effort he demands from his players is especially important given that Gilas Pilipinas will be giving up a lot in size. Both Latvia and Georgia have at least six players who stand 6-foot-8 and above.

Gilas Pilipinas allowed Turkey to roast them with 14 triples from 41 attempts for a respectable 34-percent clip. Poland connected on 11 triples from 24 attempts for an impressive 46-percent shooting percentage.

If the Gilas Pilipinas defense allows Latvia the same looks from three, then it could spell huge trouble for the Filipinos. Latvia was the best three-point shooting team in the FIBA World Cup, converting 42.1-percent from 32 attempts per game. Latvia was so good from three during the World Cup that they had more attempts from three than from two. Every Gilas player on the floor will have to be willing to fight through bone-crunching picks and chase after the Latvians, almost all of whom could shoot from outside.

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Against Georgia, the Gilas wings could afford to sag and provide help to Fajardo, Sotto, and Japeth Aguilar, who will be plagued with fouls if left to defend on single coverage against 6-foot-11 center Goga Bitadze of the Orlando Magic, 6-foot-9 power forward Sandro Mamukelashvili of the San Antonio Spurs, and 6-foot-9 power forward Toko Shengelia of Virtus Pallacanestro Bologna. Georgia made only 6 triples per game during the World Cup, so the danger from kick-out passes to the shooters will not be as high compared to Latvia.

Experts are not giving Gilas Pilipinas much of a chance to advance or even win a game in the OQT. In fact, in the FIBA Power Rankings assessing the 24 teams joining the OQT, the Philippines was ranked 20th. Georgia was ranked 14th, even higher than Poland. Latvia was ranked 3rd, just behind top-ranked Greece, which will be bannered by Giannis Antetokounmpo, and second-ranked Slovenia, led by Luka Dončić.

The more optimistic Filipino fans see that the chances of a Gilas victory could come against Georgia. The Georgians were number one in turnovers during the World Cup, which shows they can be vulnerable when facing a disciplined defensive team.

The Gilas Twin Towers have allowed the team to win the rebounding battle over Turkey (38 against 27) and over Poland (42 against 21). If Fajardo and Sotto can click at the same time on offense and stay away from foul trouble, they will be a handful for opposing defenses.

Cone will have the advantage of being able to scout up close Latvia and Georgia, who will tussle on the opening of the OQT on July 2. That advanced first-hand view of the opponents could provide Cone with invaluable information that would determine the final game plan the Gilas coaching staff will deploy.

Gilas Pilipinas just needs to advance to the knockout semifinals. Anything can happen once one gets to that stage. One win. That just might be what it takes to invite more miracles to happen.

Catch the games on the Smart LiveStream App starting July 4, 12:00 AM. It’s FREE and OPEN to all networks!

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