SMART Gilas-Pilipinas 2.0 opens its campaign in the 24th Dubai International basketball tournament against title contender Mouttahed Tripoli on Friday at the Al Ahli Club.
Coach Reyes and the Nationals, mostly composed of cadet players from the national pool, left for the Middle East Country on Wednesday morning and arrived early in the evening. They earn a first-day bye in the opener on Thursday.
But the Filipino quintet found themselves up against one of the favored teams right in its first assignment as Mouttahed is led by Lebanon national team member Rony Fahed and will parade imports Marc Salyers and Eric Chatfields.
Mouttahed is one of three Lebanon-based teams seeing action in the nine-day tournament, together with Sagesse Beirut and Al Riyadi Beirut.
Bannered by naturalized player Marcus Douthit and PBA veterans KG Canaleta, Ronjay Buenafe, and Jay-R Reyes, the Nationals are bracketed in Group B along with last year’s runner-up Al Ahli Dubai, and Al Riyadi Aramex.
After Mouttahed, Gilas faces Al Ahli on the January 12 and Al Riyadi Aramex (Jordan) on January 14.
Al Ahli signed up former New York Knick Cheikh Samb from Senegal and Americans Leroy Hurd and Leemire Goldwire for imports, while Al Riyadi Aramex is reinforced by Darwin Dorsey, San Sakkakini, and former Meralco import Alpha Bangura.
Gilas didn’t sign up the services of any import, opting to bring instead cadet pool members Greg Slaughter, Kevin Alas, RR Garcia, Garvo Lanete, Jake Pascual, Ronald Pascual, and Filipino-Americans Matthew Rosser, Isaac Holstein, and Justin Melton.
Bracketed in Group A are Lebanon teams Al Riyadi and Sagesse, the UAE national team, and Almaty of Kazakhstan.
The top two teams in each group after the preliminary will advance to the semifinals.
Gilas is using the tournament as part of its build up for the FIBA-Asia Men’s basketball championship later this year.