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Is Gilas in for a tough time against Thailand?

Gilas Pilipinas would have probably been tagged as the considerable underdog in their matchup against Thailand in the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers if the Thais fielded the exact same roster that played against South Korea in the same qualifying tournament last February 23.

Coached by veteran American mentor Chris Daleo, the Thai team that played in the February FIBA qualifying window featured 9 players from their SEA Games squad that bagged the silver in Manila last December after losing to the Philippines in the finals.

In the opening window of the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers last February, Thailand gave South Korea a huge scare before eventually going down in defeat, 86-93. The home team Korea was probably shocked to find itself down, 38-40, at the half. Going into the 4th quarter, the Koreans were up by just 6 points.

Thai-American Tyler Lamb scattered 28 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a monster effort that almost led to an upset against the heavily favored Koreans. Wattana Suttisin, a 35-year-old veteran guard, contributed 15 points and 6 boards. 

Two others also scored in double digits as promising 6-foot-8 center Chanatip Jakrawan chipped in 15 points and 6-foot-3 shooting guard Nakorn Jaisanuk scored 12.

The Thais, however, have found themselves with a packed schedule in the second window of the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers this November. (GAME SCHEDULE: FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers November window)

Thailand will play two games against the young Gilas Pilipinas made up of cadets and collegiate standouts and another game versus a souped up Indonesian team that will be bannered by naturalized big man Lester Prosper and Indonesian-American Brandon Jawato. (READ: Young Gilas team out to surprise in FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers)

Coach Daleo and Lamb will not be joining the Thai squad in the qualifiers in Manama, Bahrain. Taking over the head coaching chores for the team is Manid Niyonyindee, who’s no stranger to international competitions as he was the national team mentor in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships.

As if missing both their head coach and their main man was not big enough of a challenge to deal with, Thailand will also field in just 10 players for the qualifiers. 

Given the limitations in preparations, Thailand decided to fill in 8 slots in the national team with players from their powerhouse local pro team Hi-Tech Bangkok City. 

Thailand will have the advantage in chemistry against Gilas Pilipinas with the core of the team still fresh from playing together in the 2020 Thailand Basketball League (TBL) which ended just last August. 

Hi-Tech dominated the regular season of the Thai league by winning 13 out of their 14 outings. In the finals, Hi-Tech blasted MUBC by an average of 35 points in two games to win for the ballclub its third TBL title, tying Mono Vampire as the winningest squads in TBL history.

The Hi-Tech stalwarts leading the charge for the Thais will be the 3 players who backstopped Lamb in their game against Korea – Suttisin, Jakrawan, and Jaisanuk. 

The 23-year-old Jakrawan was named MVP of the recent TBL and projected to be the cornerstone of the Thai national team in the years to come. In the 2019 SEA Games finals, Jakrawan scored 15 points against the Philippine frontline.

The 5 other players from Hi-Tech who will be suiting up in Manama are Nattakarn Muangboon, Chatpol Chungyampin, Sukhdave Ghogar, Montien Wongsawangtham, and Bandit Lakhan.

Muangboon, named the best point guard of the TBL, is the Thai team captain and will be expected to serve as the team’s steadying presence both on and off the floor. 

Against Korea, Muangboon had 5 assists and 2 steals in 28 minutes of action. The 6-foot-5 power forward Ghogar was scoreless but grabbed 7 boards, while Wongsawangtham sank two triples on top of 5 rebounds. 

Among the 8 Hi-Tech players in the current national team, only Lakhan was not part of the squad that played against Korea, although he has played for the national team numerous times in the past. 

Rounding out the Thai lineup are big men Anucha Langsui and Anasawee Klaewnarong, both members of Thailand General Equipment in the TBL. 

Thailand will possibly have a slight edge in size over Gilas Pilipinas as 7 of the 10 Thai players stand 6-foot-3 or taller.

The Thai team is also a seasoned collection of veterans as the average age of its players is 28 years old. Only two players, Jakrawan and 24-year-old power forward Chungyampin, are aged below 25.

Despite being outnumbered and outmanned, Thailand will still be a formidable foe for Gilas Pilipinas, which was afforded less than two weeks to get ready for the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers. It will be interesting to see how Gilas coach Jong Uichico devises schemes to negate Thailand’s advantage in cohesion and experience. – Rappler.com