Assessing Gilas Pilipinas' path to the second round of the FIBA World Cup

Philippines discovered their 2023 FIBA World Cup fate in Saturday's draw at Araneta Coliseum, as they were drawn alongside familiar foes Italy, Dominican Republic and Angola in Group A. JAM STA ROSA/AFP via Getty Images

Gilas Pilipinas will face three familiar foes in the group stage of the 2023 FIBA World Cup after they were drawn into Group A with world no. 10 Italy, no. 23 Dominican Republic and no. 41 Angola at the draw held Saturday night in Manila.

Gilas is ranked 40th in the latest FIBA rankings.

Based on the schedule on the official event page, Gilas will open its campaign against Dominican Republic on Aug. 25 at Philippine Arena before facing Angola on the 27th and Italy on the 29th -- both at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.

In the 2019 World Cup, Gilas was also grouped with Italy and Angola, losing to the Azzurri by 46 and the African nation by three in overtime en route to a last-placed finish in the 32-team field. In the 2021 Olympic qualifying tournament in Belgrade, Gilas lost to the Dominicans by 27.

"Not ideal, but could have been worse" was how Gilas coach Chot Reyes described their group. "The good thing is that now, we have some clarity on who we're playing and what kind of preparation we think is necessary.'

That being said, Gilas has to emerge as one of the top two teams in Group A to advance to the second round. Barring a major upset, Italy will likely finish top of the group, meaning Gilas has to overcome both Angola and Dominican Republic -- both of whom may parade NBA players.

Here, we take a closer look at both teams.

Group stage foes

Angola is ranked fourth in Africa and is 7.4 points behind the Philippines in the FIBA rankings.

They qualified by going 10-2 in the African qualifiers, twice beating top-ranked Nigeria.

Based on their roster in the African Qualifiers, they have an average height of 6-foot-4, with three players standing at least 6-9. One of these is Houston Rockets forward Bruno Fernando, who averaged 11.3 points and 6.3 rebounds in three games in the qualifiers.

Angola's leading scorer in the qualifiers was 5-6 point guard Childe Dundao, who put up 12.1 points and appeared in all 12 games. Another player to watch is 6-4 guard Gerson Goncalves, who averaged 10.3 points in 12 games.

At the 2019 World Cup in Foshan, 6-9 Valdelício Joaquim led Angola with 20 points while Andray Blatche paced Gilas with 23. Both players are no longer active for their national teams.

Dominican Republic is ranked 7th in FIBA Americas and qualified for the World Cup by going 10-2, with their two losses coming against heavyweight Canada. The last of those ten wins was against traditional powerhouse Argentina, a result that ousted the perennial contenders and 2019 runners-ups.

In the OQT against a Gilas team composed mostly of amateur standouts and reinforced by Ange Kouame, the Dominicans were led by Victor Liz's 23 points. Jordan Heading led Gilas with 16, with Kouame adding ten. Liz was also their leading scorer in the qualifiers with 15.3PPG.

Then there's Indiana Pacers guard Chris Duarte, who put up 15.5 points in the two games he played in the qualifiers.

As impressive as their FIBA Americas run was, there's a chance Dominican Republic will get a big boost in Manila after Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns stated he intends to suit up in August.

If KAT shows up, then the Gilas bigs have to bring their A game.

What lies further ahead

Should Gilas make it out of Group A, they will advance to Group I in the second round where they will carry over their record in Group A and play the top two teams in Group B, which is composed of Serbia, Puerto Rico, China and South Sudan.

A top-two finish in Group I will ensure Gilas a spot in the quarterfinals. If they can't make it out of Group A, they will be relegated to the classification rounds for the 17th to 32nd places.

While putting on a good run in front of a home crowd is ideal, the team isn't losing sight of what's really at stake in the FIBA World Cup: a ticket to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

Philippines has not played in the Olympics since 1972, and it can end the drought by finishing as the highest-placed Asian team in the World Cup.

"It's important that our other Asian competitors are in tough groups because the best Asian team is the one that plays in the Olympics," Reyes noted. "Remember, our objective is to get into the Olympics in 2024. That's the goal."

Of all the Asian teams, China appears to be in the most favorable group.

Co-hosts Japan drew a tough group that includes Olympic bronze medalists Australia, Germany and Finland. Jordan is in a nightmare group with United States, Greece and New Zealand.

Lebanon also doesn't have it easy with Canada, Latvia and France. Iran, which represented Asia at the last Olympic Games in Tokyo, will face defending champions Spain, Ivory Coast and Brazil.