LESS than two months after Gilas Pilipinas and Iran figured in the finals of the Fiba-Asia Men's Championship in Manila, the Under-16 teams of the two nations are set to square off in their own knockout game.
But this time, the roles are reversed.
It is Iran, and not Gilas, which will be enjoying homecourt advantage when the two teams clash in the knockout quarterfinals of the Fiba-Asia Under-16 championships in Tehran on Wednesday evening.
Gilas, 4-1 (win-loss), topped its group at the end of the second round of the preliminaries after a 78-67 win over India but had the misfortune of drawing Iran in the knockout rounds.
“Walang magagawa. Natapat tayo sa kanila eh,” said Gilas assistant coach Jogs Mendoza in an overseas call to Spin.ph.
Iran struggled in the prelims, dropping a 51-77 loss to China on Sunday and absorbing another setback at the hands of Bahrain, 50-70, to drop to fourth in its group.
However, Gilas expects to see a vastly improved home team in the quarterfinals with the return of Seyed Abolfazl, who sat out the latter part of the prelims due to a sprain.
“Malakas ang Iran. Homecourt na tapos ang lalaki pa nila. Mayroon silang 6-9 player, tayo ang tallest natin 6-4. Kaya we are doing our best to map out a plan defensively,” said Mendoza. “Sigurado ko bubugbugin nila tayo sa loob.”
On Abolfazl, Mendoza said: “Yun ang missing link nila. Malakas yung No. 6 point guard na yun. Kayang kaya niyang i-utilize yung malalaki nila. Hindi naglaro ng tatlong games 'yun eh. Malamang maglaro na 'yun against us.”
The Gilas coach, however, said Iran's game is not as refined as that of its Hamed Haddadi-led elite team, which ruled the last Fiba Asia championships by beating host Gilas in the final.
“Tingin ko sa skills, lamang tayo. Pero syempre malalaki ito kaya pwersado tayong huwag silang paglaruin sa loob ng paint,” Mendoza said.
MVP Sports Foundation president Al Panlilio, who accompanied the team to Iran, said the undersized Filipinos have earned the respect of fellow competitors in the 14-nation tournament.
“Everytime na pumapasok ang team natin sa venue, nagpapalakpakan ang tao. Kasi natutuwa sila kahit ang liliit natin, ang taas ng laro ng team,” said Panlilio.