Gilas not taking souped-up Vietnam side for granted
Olmin Leyba (The Philippine Star) - December 6, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Opening jitters out of the way, Gilas Pilipinas coach Tim Cone expects his high-powered charges to run a lot more fluidly as they gun for their second straight win in the Southeast Asian Games against tough Vietnam tonight before an expected big crowd at the MOA Arena.

The Nationals threw their weight around hapless Singapore in the opener, 110-58, but Cone was far from satisfied and stressed the need to still level up as they face a stiffer challenge from the unbeaten Vietnamese (2-0)

“I don’t think we played our best basketball yet,” said Cone said on the eve of the 8:15 p.m. matchup, a virtual battle for No. 1 position in Group A.  

“Against Singapore, we were uneven, showing flashes of brilliant play at times and at others showing how disjointed we can be. We’re hoping to smooth that out as we continue to learn each other as the Games progress. I believe we’ll get better and better as the Games go along.”  

Cone has tagged the Vietnamese as one of the biggest threats to the Filipinos’ basketball domination in the 2019 edition of the SEAG.

Beefed up by Vietnamese-Americans Tran Dang Khoa, Dinh Thanh Sang, Tran Dang Khoa, Dinh Thanh Sang, Justin Young and Chris Dierker and Vietnamese-Swede Stefan Nguyen, the Vietnamese stormed to back-to-back routs of Myanmar on opening night, 131-52, Singapore yesterday, 99-78.

“Vietnam is one program that has really improved with the addition of five Viet-Americans and one Viet-Swede since the last time in the Games,” said the two-time PBA grandslam-winning coach.

“They got six, seven players who are really good athletes and really know the game. They played in the US so they’ve been raised in that kind of basketball and they’re bringing it to Vietnam so I think they’re gonna be very, very tough.”

Cone wants his wards to maintain the no-nonsense demeanor they displayed in the opener, especially on the defensive end.

“I feel the guys came out and took a serious approach, not taking it like an All-Star game where you can take up any shot and play defense when you feel like it. The guys took it seriously. I think they want to show the country that they’re gonna take a serious approach and respect the game. When you respect the game, you respect your opponent,” he said.

“We want these guys to dig in. We know they’re gonna be great offensively, we know they’re gonna be able to score, shoot threes, run the floor. But the thing we’re trying to demand from them is to play defense and I thought it’s a good game tonight. But I think they could still get better, they gotta get better against a team like Vietnam which we have coming up,” he added.

Cone, as well as nine of his players, chalked up in their first-ever match in the SEA Games.

“I was a bundle of nerves coming to the game, all day long and even at halftime, we’re up by 20, I was a bundle of nerves. So it’s really a different feeling being here at this stage.

“And the players also, I can tell. They know they’re good but they’re still on the edge and that’s healthy for all of us,” he said.      

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