Gilas brace for European heavyweights in Olympic qualifying tournament

Gilas brace for European heavyweights in Olympic qualifying tournament

IT’S A ROUGH road to the Paris Olympics for Gilas Pilipinas with world No. 8 Latvia and a couple more Top 20 countries standing in its way.

The Filipinos found themselves bunched with the host Latvians and another Euro heavyweight in No. 23 Georgia in the Group A preliminaries of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) set July 2 to 7 in Riga after yesterday’s draw.

Should Gilas finish in the Top 2 of this group, they will proceed to the crossover semifinals against the first and second-ranked teams from Group B composed of No. 12 Brazil, No. 17 Montenegro and No. 67 Cameroon.

Only the winner of the Riga OQT will earn a trip to the 2024 Olympiad alongside the rulers of the other legs in Valencia, Spain; Piraeus, Greece and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Movement in the Gilas camp is expected soon with its opponents and pathway to Paris known, including who would call the shots.

Tim Cone, who steered the Philippine quintet to a well-celebrated gold in the Hangzhou Asian Games in an interim capacity, is a sentimental favorite to take the helm and expressed openness “if the forces are right.”

The Pinoy cagers made it to the last stretch of the Paris Qualifiers with their 24th place finish in the FIBA World Cup at home.

But to say Gilas has its work cut out is an understatement.

The Latvians loom as the heavy favorite coming off a strong showing in the Manila World Cup (WC), where they took fifth place despite playing without top cager Kristaps Porzingis of Boston.

The Georgians, a former Soviet team, made their WC debut last August in Okinawa, where they reached the second round and carded 2-3 to wind up 16th overall.

Favored in the other group are the 1959 and 1963 WC champ Brazilians and the Montenegrins, which placed 13th and 11th, respectively, in the 2023 global meet. — Olmin Leyba