CLUELESS the night before, Smart Gilas-Pilipinas 2.0 finally got a glimpse of the team from China it will be facing right on opening day of the Fiba Asia Cup championship at the Ota gymnasium in Tokyo, Japan.
Attending the formal opening ceremonies of the meet that kicks off Friday, coach Chot Reyes was stunned at the sight of his Gilas team being dwarfed by the taller Chinese players, at least three of whom stand seven feet tall.
“We look like participants in d mini-midget division beside China,” Reyes tweeted on his account @coachot. “Seriously, 3 7-footers.”
Reyes and his team arrived in the Japanese capital late Wednesday night, clueless on the kind of team from China they will be up against in their 4:30 p.m. duel on Friday.
The Chinese didn’t check in at their hotel until two hours past midnight of Thursday.
“We haven’t seen them. We are hoping to see them during breakfast, but so far, they have been out of sight,” said Reyes shortly before Gilas 2.0 conducted its first practice in Tokyo.
One of the Chinese seven-footers could be Wang Zhelin, who was part of the team’s youth team that bagged the gold medal in the recent Fiba-Asia U18 championship in Ulan Bator, Mongolia.
Zhelin averaged 22.3 points to lead the Chinese past Korea, 93-91, and win the same tournament where the Energen-Pilipinas team of coach Olsen Racela finished sixth overall.
Reports rom China had it that the Chinese are already setting their sights on the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro after disbanding their national team in the wake of a disappointing 12th place finish in the recent London Games.
China, according to reports, is beginning to prepare its under-20 players for the Olympics four years from now, with the Fiba Asia Cup – formerly known as the Stankovic Cup – the first in a series of international tournaments it will be playing in.
But the Chinese are not the only worries for the Nationals in their first international foray since winning the championship of the 34th William Jones Cup in Taipei two weeks ago.
Aside from being bracketed with China in Group A, Smart Gilas 2.0 is also in the company of defending champion Lebanon, which will be bringing back the ageing but still talented Fhadi El-Khatib to lead its charge.
The only team to beat Gilas in the Jones Cup, the Lebanese also have in their fold naturalized player Jarrid Famous, the former Meralco import, Elie Stephan, and Akl Rodriguez.
Gilas plays Lebanon on Saturday, followed by Uzbekistan (Sunday), and Macau (Monday).
Group B will have Iran, Chinese-Taipei, Qatar, Japan, and India.
The top four teams in the group advance in the crossover, knockout stage of the meet, where the top three finishers get outright berths to next year’s Fiba-Asia Men’s Championship.
Smart Gilas-Pilipinas under coach Rajko Toroman finished fourth during the 2010 edition of the event in Lebanon.