Philippines opens 2023 World Cup Asian Qualifiers with two games vs. South Korea

Gilas Pilipinas will begin their FIBA World Cup Qualifiers campaign with back-to-back games against South Korea in November. 

The men’s national team will face off against its rival in the first window of the opening round on November 25 and November 28. 

The Philippines and South Korea are in Group A together with New Zealand and India. 

In the second window in 2022, Gilas will battle India on February 25 and New Zealand on February 28. In the third and final window of the first round, the Philippines will have a rematch with India on June 30 and New Zealand on July 3. 

The top three teams from each of the four groups will move on to the second round which will begin in August 2022. 

Even though the Philippines is already qualified as one of the hosts of the World Cup alongside Japan and Indonesia, Gilas will leave no stone unturned in its preparations for the quadrennial meet. Securing a top finish come 2023 begins in the first window, Gilas Pilipinas program director Tab Baldwin said after the World Cup Qualifiers draw.

“I think that will come down in part to scouting. We need to understand who our opponents are and how we best prepare,” Baldwin said. 

“New Zealand is very different than Korea. They have faced one another as we have faced Korea. But I think with New Zealand there is a not-so-much familiarity. They’re a very tough and very physical team and we know that Korea is very tough and physical,” he added. 

The Philippines and Korea have had a long-storied rivalry and its latest chapter saw Gilas Pilipinas beating their Asian neighbor twice in the recent FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers in June. 

“And I think the Philippine fans will be very quickly thumbing through the books trying to find out the book on India as well,” Baldwin went on. “And they’re going to find India has a lot of talent, a lot of size, just not a lot of international experience.”

According to the latest FIBA rankings, New Zealand is placed 25th in the world and third overall in Asia. Korea is close behind with its 29th ranking (5th in Asia) while India sits at 78th in the world (14th in Asia). The Philippines, meanwhile, is 31st overall and sixth in the region. 

“Each team does present something different, they come from different parts of the world,” Baldwin said. “I believe that our scouting has got to be on point, we’ve got to be ready and we’ve got to be ready to dance with whatever opponent, with whichever roster comes from these teams. And put our best roster out there and that’s what Coach Ryan (Gregorio) and I work on a regular basis.”

For Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) Special Assistant to the President Ryan Gregorio, it will come down to preparations for the national team. 

“I think the most important thing right now is for us to adapt to the prevailing situation. I think the circumstances have not changed from 12 months ago. The pandemic is still there,” Gregorio said. “What we need to understand is we are not the only country suffering from this kind of an environment so we have to be continuously creative on how we can move forward with our preparations.”

Gregorio mapped out the schedule for Gilas in the coming months with training resuming in October. He also mentioned that the team is eyeing a few tours in the United States as well as in Europe. 

“Preparing for every window is very important for us that will lead us into our journey towards 2023,” he said. 

Other tournaments on the horizon

The tail end of 2021 and the entirety of 2022 will provide a busy schedule for Gilas Pilipinas basketball. Aside from the World Cup Qualifiers, there is also the Southeast Asian Games and FIBA Asia Cup, which are both postponed until next year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the 2022 Asian Games. 

Gilas’ timetable may be fully loaded but it will also be the most opportune time to prepare for the 2023 FIBA World Cup. 

“It’s great — that’s what basketball players and basketball coaches should want to do. That’s what our program is designed to be able to confront. It’s just so exciting to look at the calendar for next year and just see month after month after month of official competitions, tough games,” Baldwin said with anticipation.

“I think our players are going to be beside themselves with excitement and joy but they’re not going to like the practices and the preparation that much because it’s going to be tough. But look, it’s who we are, it’s what we do, and if we didn’t have that I’m sure that we would be complaining about the fact that we’re not getting enough games. But these are going to be high-caliber games. Our players are going to improve dramatically. I simply cannot think of a better lead-up into 2023 than the 2022 calendar that we’re staring at right now.”