GILAS Pilipinas may have gotten the quarterfinal pairing it had long desired in the Fiba-Asia championships, but Olsen Racela had words of caution for coach Chot Reyes and the rest of the national team:
'Be careful what you wish for.'
A many-time national player who is now a deputy with San Mig Coffee, Racela cautioned Gilas about taking Kazakhstan lightly in their game of death on Friday for a berth in the Final Four of the qualifiers for next year's world championship in Spain.
Racela said the former Soviet state is capable of breaking the hearts of the Filipinos the way it did in their past international match-ups.
“We got what we wanted. We got what we prayed for. Ito (playing Kazakhstan) ang projection natin at the start of the tournament, but we have to do what we need to do,” said Racela, who retired from active play two years ago after 18 colorful years with Purefoods (now San Mig) and Petron Blaze.
Racela sure knows what he’s talking about since he played for the national team in two Asian Games in 1998 (Bangkok) and 2002 (Busan) where the Philippines played Kazakhstan in the battle for the bronze.
The 1998 Centennial Team under coach Tim Cone went through the wringer before beating Kazakhstan for third place in Beijing.
Four years later though, the Kazakhs returned the favor after beating the national team mentored by Jong Uichico in Busan, South Korea, with Racela serving as the team’s starting playmaker.
Gilas Pilipinas had targeted a quarterfinal meeting with Kazakhstan from the time it chose to put itself in Group A during the formal drawing of lots last June.
Racela, however, cautioned that the Kazakhs remain very dangerous opponents and a lackluster effort similar to Gilas' play in a close 67-55 victory over Hong Kong on Wednesday night won't cut it.
“We have to put the same effort we have like in the second half of the game against Hong Kong kasi malaki na ang improvement nila (Kazakhs) especially now that they have a naturalized player na nag-co-complement,” said the 42-year-old Racela.
Racela, who did commentary for the TV coverage during the Hong Kong game, noted that Kazakh’s naturalized playmaker Jerri Jonson fits the team under Italian coach Matteo Boniciolli owing to his athleticism, quickness, and effective perimeter shooting.
“Siya talaga ang fit sa Kazakhstan because they don’t have a really athletic point guard. He’s very athletic, very skilled, and can breakdown the defense. He opens up his teammates because of his shooting,” said the five-time PBA All-Star.