Italy is Gilas’ biggest obstacle
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - July 18, 2019 - 12:00am

If the Philippines plans to advance to the second round in the coming FIBA World Cup, it’s almost a must-win situation against Italy when Gilas makes its first appearance in the 32-nation conclave in Foshan, China, on Aug. 31. The element of surprise is something Gilas head coach Yeng Guiao hopes will translate into a big advantage in the same way it was when the Philippines nearly upset Croatia in its initial game at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Seville, Spain, losing an 81-78 overtime cliffhanger.

The Philippines is bracketed with Italy, Angola and Serbia in Foshan and only the top two finishers will qualify for the second round in Wuhan. After facing Italy, Gilas will take on Serbia on Sept. 2 then Angola on Sept. 4. A win over Italy will put the Philippines a foot in the door of advancing and even if Gilas loses to Serbia, beating Angola will boost its record to 2-1, enough to make it to the final 16. If the Philippines fails to advance, it will play in the classification round in Beijing.

Coincidentally, both the Philippines and Italy are employing a training pool of 19 players in preparation for the World Cup. FIBA requires each team in the World Cup to submit an initial lineup of up to 24 players by Aug. 23. The day before the competitions begin, teams will turn in their final 12-man rosters but the players may come only from the initial lineup previously submitted.

Guiao’s pool of 19 surprisingly includes Fil-Am Jordan Clarkson who’s allowed to play for the Philippines only as a naturalized import unless there is a change of heart from now until the start of the tournament. The pool lists four players who are recognized by FIBA as naturalized imports – Clarkson, Christian Standhardinger, Stanley Pringle and Andray Blatche. Under FIBA rules, a national team may enlist only one naturalized import. In Gilas’ case, only Blatche is a foreigner because Clarkson, Standhardinger and Pringle claim Filipino roots. Philippine law considers Clarkson, Standhardinger and Pringle as rightful Filipino citizens, not naturalized.

FIBA allows a national team more than one naturalized player under the “immersion” exception clause. That means if a naturalized player has lived in his adopted country for a long period of time, he will be granted eligibility for the national team beyond the limit of one naturalized player. In Australia’s case, two naturalized players were cleared for the FIBA Asia/Oceania World Cup Qualifiers – Kevin Lisch and Sudanese Thon Maker. Lisch, who has American and Italian passports, was listed as the naturalized import and Maker, who migrated to Australia with his parents when he was five, was the other naturalized import as an “immersion” exception.

In Italy’s pool of 19, 6-8 Jeff Brooks of Penn State is listed as the naturalized import. He played for the same NCAA Division-1 school as Pringle. The cast includes two “immersion” exceptions, Ariel Filloy and Awudu Abass. Filloy, 32, is a 6-3 point guard born in Cordoba, Argentina and started playing in Italy when he was 15. It’s possible he received his Italian passport before turning 16 to qualify under FIBA rules. Abass, 26, is a 6-7 small forward whose father is from Ghana and mother from Nigeria but he was born in Como, Italy. Under Italian law, a foreigner with no bloodline may not acquire Italian citizenship by naturalization regardless of where he was born until he turns 18.  That means Abass could not have been issued his Italian passport before turning 16. However, since he was born in Italy, Abass will be eligible for the national team as an “immersion” exception.

Italy also has an Italian-American 6-6 Daniel Hackett of the University of Southern California. His father Rudy was a former NBA player and his mother is Italian. Apparently, he was issued his Italian passport before he turned 16. Hackett was born in Italy and plays as an import in the Russian league. 

There are three NBA veterans in coach Romeo Sacchetti’s roster – 6-10 Danilo Gallinari, 6-5 Marco Belinelli and 6-8 Gigi Datome. Gallinari, 30, was the New York Knicks first round pick in the 2008 draft and has played for the Knicks, Denver and L. A. Clippers in a 10-year NBA career. He was recently traded to Oklahoma City in the Paul George deal. Belinelli, 33, was Golden State’s first round choice in 2007 and has suited up for the Warriors, Toronto, New Orleans, Chicago, San Antonio, Sacramento, Charlotte, Atlanta and Philadelphia in a 12-year NBA career. Belinelli won an NBA title with the Spurs in 2014. Datome, 31, played for Detroit and Boston in two NBA seasons.

Sacchetti, 65, played for the Italian team in two Olympics and was on the national squad that took the silver medal at the 1980 Summer Games in Seoul. An Italian Basketball Hall of Famer, he has a son Brian in the national pool.

It’s a long shot for Gilas to beat Italy but in basketball as in life, nothing’s impossible. 

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