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Road to Rio Olympics starts for Gilas quintet

Games Today
(Changsha Social Work College’s Gymnasium)
9:30 a.m. • Kuwait vs Hong Kong
11:45 a.m. • Philippines vs Palestine
2:30 p.m. • Iran vs Japan
4:45 p.m. • South Korea vs Jordan
7:30 p.m. • Singapore vs China
9:30 p.m. • Taiwan vs Lebanon

SMART Gilas Pilipinas officially opens its campaign in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship as it faces underdog Palestine in the tournament’s opening day.

The Filipinos will square off with the Palestinians in Group B play at 11:45 a.m. (local time) at the Changsa Social Work College’s Gymnasium in Changsa, China today.

The other members of Group B are Kuwait and Hong Kong, who will play each other today as well.

Only the top three teams in the group will move forward in the second round of the tourney.

Though it is favored to sweep this preliminary round against inferior teams on paper, national team coach Tab Baldwin wants no part of any complacencies from his boys since he knows that every game is valuable for Smart Gilas in its quest to strike gold and the lone Asian berth in the Rio Olympics.

“We need to take every game seriously. These games in the opening round will be important as these should prepare us for the later rounds against the top countries in Asia,’’ said Baldwin.

“Our goal is to win every game and win the gold to make it to the Olympics and that’s what we’re going after.’’

Holdovers from the 2014 World Cup roster are expected to spearhead the Philippine charge as naturalized star Andray Blatche, Jayson Castro, Ranidel De Ocampo, Marc Pingris and  Gabe Norwood are all expected to make huge contributions, along with other team members Terrence Romeo, Calvin Abueva, Asi Taulava, Sonny Thoss, Dondon Hontiveros, Matt Ganuelas-Rosser and JC Intal.

Tomorrow, Gilas Pilipinas will continue its run as it faces Hong Kong at 9:30 a.m. and it will finish off its opening round against Kuwait at 4:45 p.m. Both games will also be played in the same venue.

The Philippines will face a Palestinian squad that will be led by forward Sani Sakakini and slotmen Hamza Yousef and Salim Sakakini.

Right after arriving in Changsa, Smart Gilas already conducted a practice session Monday night for the players to familiarize themselves with the playing court and venue.

This year’s FIBA Asia tournament serves as the qualifying event for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with only the champion moving forward to the Summer Games.

The national team will face a Palestine side that will see action for the first time in the FIBA Asia after earning a spot by finishing third in the West Asia championship behind Lebanon and Jordan.

Jerry Steele, an American, will handle the team with players like 6-foot-8 forward Salim Sakakini and 6-foot-5 shooting guard Nicola Fadayel. Omar Krayem, who was the Asian import of Globalport during the Governors’ Cup, is doubtful in joining the team.

The tournament will also be the first for the 6-foot-11 Blatche, who initially played for the national team in last year’s FIBA World Cup, where he averaged 21.2 points and 13.8 rebounds with 1.6 steals.

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