Gilas Pilipinas supporters generally seem in agreement that notching a win over world No. 5 and home team Serbia on Wednesday, June 30 (Thursday, July 1, 2:30 am, Philippine time) in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament is close to mission impossible.
There is, however, a common belief that Gilas Pilipinas pulling off a victory the following day against a veteran-laden Dominican Republic squad is not an improbability.
But before Filipino fans get ahead of themselves, it is best to be more circumspect and assess the Dominican Republic team from a pair of objective lenses.
What one will discover is a team that is physical, highly-skilled, and athletic. It is also a team that is out to make history for its country since the Dominican Republic has never made the Olympic in the sport of basketball. It has, however, qualified in the past two editions of the FIBA World Cup.
The Dominican Republic will not be one which will panic under pressure. The team is loaded with experienced campaigners.
The average age of the squad is 27.5 years old with three players over 30 years old. These are 35-year-old shooting guard Victor Liz, 31-year-old Sadiel Rojas, and 30-year-old Eloy Vargas.
Liz, Rojas, and Vargas bannered the squad in the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China where the Dominican Republic defeated Germany to advance to the second round of the competition.
Liz and Vargas were also part of the national team that won over Gilas Pilipinas in a tune-up game in 2014 and played in the FIBA World Cup in Spain.
Two other holdovers from the 2019 World Cup squad will again see action for the Dominican Republic in the Tokyo Olympic qualifiers. These are 6-foot-3 shooting guard Rigoberto Mendoza and projected starting point guard Gelvis Solano.
A lot of attention from recent write-ups has focused on Vargas because Gilas fans are curious to see how Kai Sotto and Angelo Kouame will match up with the 6-foot-11 Dominican center.
Vargas played US NCAA Division 1 basketball for powerhouse Kentucky. As a pro, he has suited up in the NBA D-League and in professional leagues in France, Brazil, Spain, Uruguay, and Iran.
Vargas is not the only US-trained player in the Dominican Republic roster. In fact, the Dominican Republic line-up is loaded with players who developed their game in the US NCAA.
Rojas, a 6-foot-4 small forward, played high school and college ball in the US where he was born and raised. He then brought his act to the NBA D-League where he made the All-Defensive Second Team in 2014 and the All-Defensive Third Team in 2013.
He was also part of the Indiana Pacers in the 2014 NBA Summer League before signing with UCAM Murcia in the Spanish Liga ACB.
Solano had four years of US NCAA basketball experience before embarking on a pro career which has brought him to leagues in China and Argentina.
Two solid options for Dominican Republic coach Melvyn Lopez at the shooting guard spot are 6-foot-5 Brandone Francis and 6’6″ Adonys Henriquez.
Francis was part of the University of Florida Gators in his freshman year before he moved to Texas Tech. As a junior in 2019, he helped his school make the NCAA finals where he led Texas Tech with 17 points in the championship game which they lost to top seed Virginia.
Henriquez was a member of the University of Central Florida (UCF). A college teammate of his was Tacko Fall of the Boston Celtics. Henriquez averaged over 10 points in each of his two seasons with UCF. He now plays for Club Ourense in the Liga Española de Baloncesto, also known as LEB Oro, the second division of the Spanish Liga ACB.
The 6-foot-8 power forward Angel Nunez started in the US NCAA with Louisville before he was recruited by Gonzaga where in his first season, he became teammates with Kelly Olynyk. In his third and final season with Gonzaga, Nunez was teammates with Domantas Sabonis of the Indiana Pacers.
Another big man, 6-foot-8 center Luis Santos, started high school basketball at the Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita, Kansas, before becoming part of the UCF.
Aside from Solano and Liz, the Dominican Republic boasts of two other crack point guards. These are 6-foot-2 Andres Feliz who averaged 11 points in his senior year as part of the Illinois Fighting Illini, a Division I team competing in the Big Ten Conference, and 6-foot-2 Michael Torres who just this past season was signed up for three years by Real Betis Baloncesto in the Spanish Liga ACB. Rounding out the squad is 6-foot-10 back-up center Jhonatan Araujo.
With a fleet of wily point guards at his disposal, Coach Lopez can try to match up with the vaunted speed of the Gilas Pilipinas backcourt. With mobile and hefty bigs, expect the Dominican Republic to also try to bully their way in the low block against the lean Gilas frontliners.
The Philippines and the Dominican Republic encounter will be pivotal as the winner most likely will earn a spot in the crossover knockout semifinals against the top ranked team from the other group made up of Italy, Senegal, and Puerto Rico.
The Dominican Republic will enter the game against the Philippines as the clear favorites.
With Dwight Ramos still a question mark and injuries also hounding Kouame and Carl Tamayo, Gilas Pilipinas will have to outdo itself if it wants to pull the rug from under the Dominican Republic. It can be done, but it will be hard. – Rappler.com