NBA stars to test Philippine team ahead of World Cup
Paul Pierceof the Brooklyn Nets looks on during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida on March 12, 2014 - by Mike Ehrmann
NBA players Paul Pierce, Blake Griffin, Damian Lillard, and DeMar DeRozan are to play a "special pick up game" with members of the national team -- known as Gilas Pilipinas -- next month, head coach Chot Reyes said.
"This is a fitting send-off for Gilas as they defend the Philippine flag at the 2014 FIBA World Cup," Reyes said in a statement.
The trip is being funded by Manny Pangilinan, a business magnate who heads the country's largest telecom firm PLDT and is the team's patron, a statement from the company said.
Ranked 34th in the world, the national team won a berth in Group B in this year's World Cup in Spain, after placing second behind Iran in the 2013 Asia championship.
It is the first time in nearly 40 years that the basketball-mad archipelago has qualified for the global games.
"This is our grand comeback to the world stage, so having a special pick-up game with a powerhouse cast of players will definitely rally the spirits of Filipinos and inspire the boys to play harder," Reyes said.
While basketball is a virtual religion in the impoverished Southeast Asian nation, players are smaller compared to their European and American counterparts.
Teams often bring in American players to spice up the local league.
Early this month, President Benigno Aquino rushed through a law granting citizenship to the 2.11-metre (six foot, 11 inches) tall Andray Blatche to boost Gilas's chances in the World Cup.
Blatche -- who averaged 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds a game this season for the Nets in the NBA -- is expected to shine come August.