2019 FIBA U19 World Cup Preview: Philippines vs Greece
Enzo Flojo on Jun 29, 2019 05:26 PM
Can AJ Edu and Kai Sotto lead Gilas Youth past host Greece?
The 2019 FIBA Under 19 World Cup is upon us, with 16 teams from all over the world congregating in the city of Heraklion on the fabled island of Crete in Greece.
Canada is the defending champion of this biennial event, with Team USA heavy favorites to wrest the crown from their North American counterparts even as host Greece attempts to atone for their below par showing at last year's U18 European Championship, where they finished 14th overall and barely escaped relegation to Division B.
Of course, we will all root for our own guys -- the Gilas Youth U19 squad coached by Ateneo Blue Eagles assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga. The Pinoys are making their first appearance at this level on the world stage since the 1979 team that featured the likes of Joel Banal, Terry Saldaña, and Hector Calma.
I will preview each of the Filipinos' games in this tournament starting with their opener against the hometown favorites -- the U19 Hellas.
The Greeks are smarting from a terrible campaign last year and are hoping to find better fortunes this year on this island where many mythological Greek gods were born (e.g. Zeus, Artemis, Apollo). Coached by Georgios Vlassopoulos, the youthful Hellas unit boasts of an average size of 6'7” with the twin tower combo of 7'1” Efstratios Voulgaropoulos and 6'10” Emmanouli Chatzidakis poised to foil the efforts of our own twin towers, 7'2” Kai Sotto and 6'11” AJ Edu.
It'll be an interesting matchup up front, to say the least, though the edge should be with our boys, Sotto and Edu, who paired up for around 27 points, 19 rebounds, and 4 blocks per game in the 2018 FIBA U18 Asia Cup in Thailand. In contrast, Voulgaropoulos and Chatzidakis averaged a combined 6.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 0.9 rejections per game at the U18 Euro tourney.
With the advantage in the frontcourt forthcoming, the main problem for Gilas Youth will actually be on the perimeter, where Greece shot 36% from beyond the arc at the Euro competition. Their hottest shooter was 6'8”swingman Nikolaos Rogkavopoulos, who already plays at the senior pro level for AEK Athens. Rogkavopoulos put up 19.7 points per contest last year, hitting 45% from three-point land, sinking nearly 3 treys per game. Expected to shadow Rogkavopoulos in this game will be San Beda's Rhayyan Amsali and FEU's Xyrus Torres, though both are severely undersized, giving up 4-5 inches against the Greek sniper. Perhaps NU's Carl Tamayo may also try his hand at guarding Rogkavopoulos, and at 6'7”, the Cebuano native may have a better chance.
The guard duo of Chrysostomos Sandramanis and Nikos Arsenopoulos will also be in coach Sandy's radar. They were the 2nd and 3rd best scorers for Greece last year behind Rogkavopoulos, combining for around 26 points per outing. Both are streaky three-point shooters and are quick in transition, so our own guards like Dave Ildefonso, Gerry Abadiano, Miguel Oczon, and Rome-based Dalph Panopio have to bring their A-games if we are to cancel out the Greek backcourt's production.
All things considered, this should be Gilas Youth's best chance at a victory in the group phase, Greece's homecourt edge notwithstanding. We have a bit of an advantage in the paint, and if we can control the tempo, we should maximize the presence of both Edu and Sotto around the basket. If we can also contain Greece's perimeter game, then we should have a decent shot at opening our campaign on a winning note.