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Davis Bertans

FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament Rosters: Who’s In, Who’s Out?

How do 11-man Gilas Pilipinas stack up against their FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament opponents?

FIBA released on Monday the official rosters for the four Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQTs) that will determine the last four participants in the 2024 Paris Olympics Men’s Basketball Competition.

OQTs will be held simultaneously in Greece, Latvia, Puerto Rico, and Spain, with six teams participating in each of them. Only the winner of each OQT will qualify for Paris.

Bracketed in Group B of the Latvia OQT along with the hosts and Georgia, Gilas Pilipinas as expected submitted a roster of only 11 players. The team recently dropped two competitive tune-up games to Turkiye (84-73) and fellow OQT-bound squad Poland (82-80).

What lies in store for Gilas when they take on hosts Latvia and Georgia, both on July 4 (Philippine time)? Let’s take a look.

Latvia

Admittedly, the hosts will pose a formidable challenge for Gilas. Latvia are ranked sixth in the world, and finished fifth in last year’s FIBA World Cup. In fact, they were a Davis Bertans triple away from ousting eventual champions Germany in the quarterfinals at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Bertans is the only current NBA player on Latvia’s OQT roster. The only other Latvian currently in the NBA is Kristaps Porzingis, who recently underwent surgery for a foot injury around a week after winning the NBA title with the Boston Celtics.

But there’s still plenty of talent and height on this roster, which is bringing back seven veterans from their World Cup squad. Three players stand at least 6’10”, while four others are listed at 6’9”. Davis’ elder brother Dairis, also an NBA veteran, is one of the shortest at 6’4”, behind only fellow World Cup veteran Arturs Zagars (6’3”).

Davis Bertans is undoubtedly their go-to guy. “The Latvian Laser” averaged 12.0PPG for his country in last year’s World Cup, and hit 8.8PPG in 28 games for the Charlotte Hornets last season after being traded by the OKC Thunder. At 6’10”, it will be interesting to see who Tim Cone will assign to guard him.

Filipino fans might also remember forward Janis Timma, who became a meme after he showed up for the Orlando Magic in the 2021 NBA Summer League with blonde, combed-back hair. But make no mistake, meme or no meme Timma can play. He has extensive Euro League experience and has been a regular fixture on the Latvian national team since the youth level.

Their World Cup team’s top scorer, Andrej Grazulis, won’t be around, but the next two top scorers, forward Rolands Smits and guard Arturs Zagars, are seeing action.

Georgia

Georgia currently has two players who were on NBA rosters last season – forward Sandro Mamukelashvili of the San Antonio Spurs and center Goga Bitadze of the Orlando Magic. The team finished 16th in last year’s FIBA World Cup, reaching the second round where they were routed by eventual champions Germany and 2021 Olympic bronze medalists Australia. Only six players from that World Cup squad are seeing action in the OQT, but they include Mamukelashvili and Bitadze.

The presence of these twin towers will spell trouble for Gilas. While both players put up modest NBA numbers last season, the 6’11” Bitadze was Georgia’s leading scorer (13.6) and rebounder (7.8) in the World Cup, while the 6’10” Mamukelashvili was the second-leading scorer (12.8). Gilas’ frontline of Kai Sotto, June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, and Carl Tamayo will definitely have their hands full.

Georgia have made a change in their naturalized player slot, bringing in shooting guard Joe Thomasson of Wright State to replace Thad McFadden. Young point guard Rati Andronikashvili, who was second behind McFadden in assists in the World Cup, is back to man the backcourt. He will be joined by former FIBA Euro U19 player Luka Maziashvili, who saw action for the UMass Lowell River Hawks in the US NCAA.

What awaits

Should Gilas book one of the two FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament Group B slots in the crossover semifinals, one of the top two teams from Group A – comprised of Brazil, Cameroon, and Montenegro – will be waiting.

Brazil are ranked 12th in the FIBA rankings and finished 13th in last year’s World Cup. Among the players on their OQT roster, only Gui Santos was in the NBA last season.

Cameroon didn’t qualify for the World Cup last year and earned their spot in the OQT by winning a pre-qualifying tournament. Their lone NBA star, Pascal Siakam, is not on their OQT roster. Neither are former UAAP MVP Ben Mbala and other former NBA players Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje and Luc Mbah a Moute.

Montenegro finished 11th in Manila last year and are ranked 17th by FIBA. Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Vucevic, who led them in scoring in the World Cup, is listed on their OQT roster.

Banner image from FIBA.


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