<
>

What to expect from Nenad Vucinic -- Gilas Pilipinas coach for the next FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers window

play
Indonesia stun Philippines to win men's basketball gold (1:51)

Indonesia ended Philippines' 31-year domination of men's basketball at the SEA Games with a shock win in the final. (1:51)

On June 1, members of the recently-named 18-man Gilas Pilipinas pool practiced for the first time ahead of the next window of the 2023 FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers.

Eleven players showed up, including Ange Kouame, Dave Ildefonso, and SJ Belangel of Ateneo, Carl Tamayo of UP, and Rhenz Abando of Letran. Originally a 15-man pool, the number increased after UP Fighting Maroons' Ricci Rivero, EAC's Allen Liwag and Gilas Youth Caelum Harris were added late Thursday.

Running the practice -- also for the first time -- was Nenad Vucinic, the 57-year-old Serbian coach who has been a fixture on the Gilas sidelines for the past few months.

The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, through deputy executive director Butch Antonio, confirmed Thursday with ESPN that Vucinic will coach the young Gilas squad for at least this upcoming window, which will see them take on New Zealand on June 30 in Auckland and India on July 3 at the Mall of Asia Arena. It is still not clear who will coach the team at the FIBA Asia Cup scheduled for July 12 to 24 in Jakarta.

As co-host, Philippines has already qualified for next year's World Cup, so the SBP is using these remaining windows to expose young talent to top-notch regional competition. With his vast international coaching experience, including an eight-year stint calling the shots for New Zealand's Tall Blacks, Vucinic is the ideal coach to handle the future stars of Philippine basketball.

Gilas assistant coach Jong Uichico said Vucinic set the tone early in their first practice, making it clear that he expected everyone to be in shape.

"I would say the practice was short, but it definitely wasn't light," Uichico told ESPN, explaining that no time was wasted during their practice session. "He's a straightforward coach. He's soft-spoken but he will tell you what you need to improve on."

It's likely a trademark of Serbian coaches. Former Gilas coach Rajko Toroman, according to his former assistants, didn't know the meaning of "light practice", and while his sessions were short compared to professional teams, so much was accomplished because everyone followed a strict regimen. Vucinic appears to be cut from the same cloth.

Uichico expects the pace of practices to be ramped up even more in the coming days, with the other missing players hopefully showing up soon, and also noted that Vucinic's vast knowledge is a plus not just for the young players but also a veteran Filipino coach like himself.

"The practice (Wednesday) didn't have too many X's and O's yet. The players will learn a lot from him. Even I am learning a lot of new things," added Uichico.

Vucinic was reportedly recommended to the SBP by another former Tall Blacks coach, former Gilas coach and program director Tab Baldwin, under whom he served as an assistant in New Zealand. He got his introduction to the local brand of basketball when he joined the team last year in Jordan for the King Abdullah Cup. "He was mostly in the background (in Jordan)," Uichico recalled. "But he gave a lot of good inputs."

Vucinic was also an assistant to Chot Reyes during last month's Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi, and was recently appointed consultant with the Meralco Bolts in the PBA. He has coached various European clubs in a career that began in 1996, before any of the current Gilas pool members were born.

"He's very detail-oriented," Uichico said, adding that while their first practice still had a getting-to-know-you vibe, the mood was serious and professional. With less than a month to prepare, it will certainly be a challenge for Vucinic to effectively instill his system in his new team in time for the games against New Zealand and India.