There is no easy group when it comes to the World Cup. Just ask Gilas Pilipinas.
The field has since expanded to 32 teams compared to 24 back in 2014 and each group has four teams instead of five in the prelims. Still, Gilas Pilipinas will figure in a tough bracket in the 2019 FIBA World Cup.
The Philippines has been slotted with Serbia, Italy, and Angola in Group D, which will compete in Fushan, China. But don’t let how these squads qualified for the World Cup fool you.
Serbia – a squad that only placed in third place in Group L of the European Qualifiers – is still the fourth-best team in the world.
On the other hand, Italy finished second in Group J of the same qualifiers. Angola placed second in Group E in the African Qualifiers.
And each squad will be as loaded as they enter the World Cup.
When Gilas takes on Serbia, the Philippine frontline headed by June Mar Fajardo will have to lock in on Philadelphia 76er Boban Marjanovic, who will most likely suit up. The 7-foot-3 behemoth played in two games for Serbia in the Qualifiers, averaging 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds.
It will be tough for Andray Blatche to help out Fajardo as well as Nikola Jokic might be present for Serbia as well. The sure-shot All-NBA team member who plays for the Denver Nuggets last suited up for Serbia during the Rio Olympics.
Potential running mates for Marjanovic amd Jokic are former NBA pros Milos Teodosic and Miroslav Raljica. Certainly, Serbia’s Euroleague vets will also suit up.
Then there’s Italy.
Gabe Norwood will have his hands full if Italy decides to line up Los Angeles Clipper Danilo Gallinari, a sweet-shooter who stands at 6-foot-10. Gallinari has yet to play a game for Italy in the World Cup.
Also potentially suiting up for Italy as well is sniper Marco Belinelli, who, like Gallinari, did not play in the Qualifiers. During that time, 6-foot-4 guard Amedeo Della Valle and 6-foot-7 burly forward Awudu Abass were Italy’s main gunners.
Angola will be no slouch either. Their duo Yanick Moreira, who stands at 6-foot-9, and Carlos Morais, who is a 6-foot-3 former NBA prospect, rain roughshod during the African Qualifiers.
Only the top two teams in each group will move on to the knockout playoffs. But expect Gilas Pilipinas to fight to climb these mountains in order to reach that stage.