Clarkson, Vucevic face off in FIBA World Cup tuneup

August 20, 2023 Robert Andaya 325 views

NOW the hard part for Gilas Pilipinas begins.

After dispatching Ivory Coast in the first of three tune-up games before the FIBA World Cup 2023, Gilas PIlipnas and head coach Chot Reyes expect to find an entirely new challenge when they take on European heavyweight Montenegro and its NBA star Nikola Vucevic at the Philsports Arena in Pasig City.

“Montenegro is a very different team. Mas malakas yan, European style, and (Nikola) Vucevic is a bonafide NBA starter for his team,” said Reyes when asked about Gilas Pilipinas’ chances against Montenegro shortly after their convincing 85-62 virtory over the FIBA World Cup African qualifier.

“Sa Montenegro, mapapalaban talaga tayo. But we’ll see. We’re looking to play better in the Montenegro game than we did against Ivory Coast,” added Reyes.

The August 20 closed-door game against world No. 18 Montenegro is scheduled at 8 p.m. also at PhilSports Arena in Pasig City.

Montenegro, which clinched a World Cup berth on the last game day of the European qualifiers in November last year, will be headlined by Vucevic, the 6-9 forward of the Chicago Bulls, 6-7 Bojan Dubljevic, and sharpshooters Vladimir Mihailovic and Dino Radoncic.

Although they play different positions, former NBA “Sixth Man of the Year” winner Jordan Clarkson of the Utah Jazz and Vucevic are expected to go at each other at some part of the game.

After Montenegro, Gilas Pilipinas will wrap up its tune-up matches on Monday against world No. 31 Mexico at the same time and venue.

Clarkson and six’time PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo of San Miguel Beer were the top scorers for Gilas in the tune-up match against Ivory Coast, which is bracketed in Group G along with defending champion Spain, Iran, and Brazil in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Clarkson, who arrived in the country only last week, and Fajardo both had 13 points.

Three other Gilas mainstays had double-digit scores as AJ Edu added 12 points with seven rebounds, Scottie Thompson contributed 11 points, five assists and four rebounds , and 7–3 NBA hopeful Kai Sotto had 10 points.

Clarkson, who played point guard for most of the game, committed four turnovers.

Reyes claimed it was part of the plan to put Clarkson at the point-guard position so he can get a feel of the game with his teammates.

“Overall, there were still some kinks offensively, plus the turnovers. But it’s OK. It’s the first time that these players played as a team together,” explained Reyes.

“But I was very pleased with our defense, especially sa second half. Pinaghandaan talaga namin yun nung nasa Europe and China kami.”

Reyes plans to announce the final composition of the 12-man Gilas Pilipinas team on Aug. 21, two days before the formal start of the FIBA World Cup at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.

The Filipinos will play against the Dominican Republic on Aug. 25, Angola on Aug. 27 and Italy on Aug.29.