Gilas Pilipinas will be tested early in the FIBA World Cup on Saturday against Italy in Group D. Italy boasts a roster that includes two NBA veterans -- Marco Belinelli of the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder's Danilo Gallinari -- and a seasoned naturalized American forward. The Azzurri are also coached by a former Olympian.
Belinelli has found a niche in the NBA as a premier perimeter specialist who has bounced around since being drafted 18th overall by the Golden State Warriors in 2007. He averaged 10.5 PPG in 23 reserve minutes for Greg Popovich in San Antonio. Belinelli, however, performs a lot better in international competitions averaging 15.9 PPG in his nine stints with the Italian national team since 2006. He is making his first appearance in the World Cup since 2006.
One of Belinelli's claims-to-fame is his triumph in the 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend 3-point shootout where he defeated the Washington Wizards' Bradley Beal to showcase his touch from beyond the arc.
Gallinari is coming off an appendectomy on August 4 and has only seen action in one of the exhibition matches played by the Italians leading to the World Cup.
The No. 6 overall selection in 2008 by the New York Knicks has also made the rounds in the NBA. The Thunder is his fourth stop. He was part of the three-player trade involving superstar Paul George last month but is coming off one of his best seasons in the league, with a career-high 19.9 PPG in 68 games played for the Los Angeles Clippers.
The 6-foot-10 forward is also a known marksman from deep, averaging 43% from distance last season with the Clippers.
Gallinari last suited up for Italy in the 2017 FIBA Eurobasket, and injuries have kept him from donning the national team colors more often.
American-born Jeff Brooks is a 6-foot-8 rookie on the squad after being naturalized in September 2018. He had a nondescript collegiate career for Penn State and went undrafted in the 2011 NBA Draft. The 30-year-old made the rounds in the European circuit and has established a reputation for being an aggressive all-around scorer.
Playing in Spain's ACB Liga Endesa for Unicaja Malaga over the last two years, Brooks averaged just below ten points per game but shot 52% from the field including 37% from 3-point range. He and Gallinari together on the court at the same time could create matchup problems for Gilas.
Italy's skipper is three-time Euroleague champion Luigi Datome (who had a brief stint with the Boston Celtics) while their coach is Meo Sacchetti.
Sacchetti was a member of the Italian national team that captured the silver medal in men's basketball during the 1980 Moscow Olympics-one of only two podium finishes of the country in the quadrennial meet.
The 53-year-old was appointed head coach in 2017 and steered the team to a top eight finish in that year's Eurobasket along with eight victories in the qualifiers to advance to this staging of the World Cup for the first time since the 2006 edition in Japan.
Other key players are Italian-American guard Daniel Hackett, Argentine-Italian point guard Ariel Filloy and Alessandro Gentile-a former Italian league Finals MVP.
Perhaps due to the prolonged absence of Gallinari, the Azzurri were 0-6 coming into China, including recently finishing 0-3 in the Acropolis Basketball Tournament. They lost 83-63 against the Giannis Antetokounmpo-led Greek team and 96-64 against World Cup group mates Serbia before being edged out by Cedi Osman and Ersan Ilyasova's Turkey squad 72-70 to round out the competition. Gallinari was able to suit up for the Italians in its final tune-up encounter-a loss to New Zealand-and managed to score 22 points.
Belinelli, Gentile and center Paul Biligha played heavy minutes in those games but could be in for a lift with the return of Gallinari-even if he still not at one hundred percent.
The Italy vs. Gilas will air Saturday on ESPN5 at 7:30 p.m. with a livestream on ESPN5.com.