SEVILLE, SPAIN - After seeing world No. 3 Argentina almost fall at the hands of Gilas Plipinas, Greece coach Folios Katsikaris said he was mighty glad he heeded the warning of some Manila-based friends about this 'very, very tough' Philippine team.
"I had some friends who live in the Philippines and they told me, 'Be ready (against the Philippines) because those guys are gonna be very, very tough. Filipinos, they love their basketball and for them, it's a religion,'" Katsikaris told Spin.ph on Wednesday, recalling the word he got from his friends.
"And it was true."
Greece beat the Philippines, 70-82, in a tough, highly physical game on Sunday that had tempers flaring in the end - a big relief for Katsikaris who said his fears were all the more validated by the way Gilas almost sent Argentina crashing in an 81-85 defeat the next day.
"Truth is, from the beginning it was tough for us," said the 47-year-old coach, a pass-first point guard during his time who also had a brief spell as head coach of the Russian national team before taking over the head-coaching job in his homeland just two months ago.
"I was very, very happy that we stayed focused because of what we saw with the Argentina game the next day, I was happy we won the game."
But even with the advance warming from friends, Katsikaris admitted it was hard for him to convnce his players about the imminent danger that awaited them in the Gilas game, more so after they saw a 'short team' in the scouting videos.
"It was very difficult to convince my players to believe that because when we saw the video, we saw a short team, everybody was shooting threes," said the bespectacled coach. "So it was very difficult to convince the players that you have to be very ready mentally for 40 minutes."
Katsikaris said he made sure of two things in the match against Gilas.
Katsikaris had a run-in with Gilas coach Chot Reyes after the match over accusations of 'dirty plays' and 'breach of coaching ethics.' But he only had kind words for the Philippines, not only for its love for basketball but for its 'completely different' team.
"I really know the tradition of basketball in the Philippines and it's great. It's a facet of the game that we love and I really like the team a lot," he said.
Asked if the Philippines has the potential to excel at this level, Katsikaris said: "For sure. It's a different team, completely different from other countries. So anything different is good. So if they have a chance to have some players in some positions, if they can do this, I think this experience will help them a lot for the next world tournaments.
"I believe it will be a great experience for them and if they believe that they can participate and be competitive, it will help them for the next tournament."