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    Tall, formidable Croatia awaits Gilas Pilipinas in baptism of fire in Fiba World Cup

    Aug 29, 2014
    Gilas coach Chot Reyes is awed by the sheer size of Croatia but far from intimidated. Jerome Ascano

    SEVILLE, SPAIN - One look at the long queue of players lining up on the buffet table gives Chot Reyes a fairly good idea of the tall task facing Gilas Pilipinas in its opening match against Croatia in the Fiba World Cup on Saturday.

    "Hindi malaki ang Croatia - super laki," sighed the Gilas coach.

    From 7-foot-1 Ante Tomic to 6-10 Philadelphia 76ers draftee Dario Saric to Mario Hezonja and Bojan Bogdanovic, Reyes saw for himself how Croatia's players literally stood out not only over Gilas players but also over players from Argentina, Greece and Puerto Rico at the official tournament hotel.

    "Makikita mo na kaagad kapag sabay-sabay kaming kumakain dito," Reyes told, speaking while a steady stream of tall players pass us by from the lobby of the Bellavista-Palmera Hotel. "Croatia's players dwarf us and even other players from Greece and Argentina.

    "Sila talaga ng Senegal ang pinakamalaki dito."

    Not only is Croatia tall, but it has over the years built a proud basketball tradition while performing well in the run-up to the World Cup, presenting a daunting challenge for the Philippines in its return to the highest level of basketball after a 35-year absence.

    Reyes is awed by the sheer size of Croatia but far from intimidated, believing that the team spirit and fighting qualities Gilas has developed in a gruelling, month-long buildup will give the Filipinos a shot in every game they play in this 24-nation conclave spread over four Spanish cities.

    He is also hoping to ride on the only tangible edge Gilas has over all the other teams - quickness - to make up for the lack of size.

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    "We have no other choice but to take advantage of our quickness, that's about it," said the multi-titled coach. "Wala naman tayong magagawa pagdating sa size. We're really the smallest team here."

    Reyes also has one ace up his sleeve in NBA player Andray Blatche, who gives Gilas the only big man who can be expected to give opponents a problem inside.

    "Simple lang 'yan. If we have no Andray Blatche here, we have no chance," Reyes said emphatically.

    The element of surprise should also work in Gilas' favor, Reyes said.

    "We're new here. Our opponents might have scouted us or watched the videos of our tuneup games but still, it's still different when you play each other," he said.

    The five-time PBA Coach of the Year awardee was also quick to defend the rigorous one-month buildup that started in Miami and took Gilas to Spain and France and back to Spain amid fears of burnout as well as the risk of wear and tear and injuries.

    The backbreaking schedule, Reyes said, was a calculated risk that more than anything else helped Gilas and Blatche learn to play together.

    "Anong gusto mo, burnout or hindi ka handa?" he asked. "I'd rather take the risk of burnout."

    Reyes was also happy to note that Gilas will be going to its World Cup debut back in full strength after Jayson Castro and Paul Lee recovered from injuries. Castro, Reyes said, rejoined Gilas' hard practice a day after missing the tuneup game against Dominican Republic due to a foot injury.

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    After Croatia, Gilas takes on world powers Argentina and Greece back to back in a span of less than 24 hours. The Filipinos take their only break on Tuesday before taking on Puerto Rico and Senegal, needing two wins to make it to the next round.

    Is that possible, Reyes was asked.

    "Honestly, I don't know what to expect," Reyes said. "It's our first time here. But we'll see."

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    Gilas coach Chot Reyes is awed by the sheer size of Croatia but far from intimidated. Jerome Ascano
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