Everything you need to know about the national teams of the Netherlands, Iceland, and Estonia.

Gilas Pilipinas 3.0 hasn’t had the best series of developments so far. Everyone knows that the team has been plagued by the constant backing out of some of the PBA’s best players. In fact, around half of the team that played in the 2014 FIBA World Cup are absent from this year’s iteration, which will compete in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship for the continent’s lone outright berth to the 2016 Rio Olympics. What’s worse than that, however, is the fact that the team has had only a couple of weeks of light-to-medium training, and they had to cancel a planned training camp in Turkey because of practicality issues. 

Enter this week’s pocket tourney in Estonia, which will be the first big test for the team. The plan is for Gilas to play three Euro teams that have qualified to the 2015 Eurobasket Championship, return to the Philippines for a short respite, and then fly to Taipei for the 2015 William Jones Cup, a competition in which no Pinoy team has played since winning the title in 2012. 

For now, let’s focus on the three teams Gilas 3.0 will face in Europe: the Netherlands (Holland), Estonia, and Iceland.






These three teams are currently unranked in the FIBA Men’s World Ranking, but they are by no means pansies. None of those teams are high profile Euro countries in terms of basketball, but they have more than enough size and skill to create a ton of problems for Gilas. Despite not being in the top tiers of Euro hoops, these three countries were able to qualify to Eurobasket 2015, with Estonia, in particular, projected to be a dark horse contender to turn some heads and surprise a lot of people.

Let’s take a closer look at these three countries.

NETHERLANDS
- The Dutch, otherwise known as the Orange Lions, last played in Eurobasket’s biggest and best tournament more than two decades ago in 1989, when they finished in the top 8. Since then, the team hasn’t gotten the needed support and, consequently, have been absent from any Euro hoops conversation whatsoever. This despite the fact they have produced several NBA players, most notably big men Francisco Elson, Dan Gadzuric, and maybe the most accomplished center in Indiana Pacers history, Rik Smits.
- They also went through some controversial times, losing a couple of games by default after playing two players who were classified as naturalized players by FIBA - Mohamed Kherrazi (born in Morocco) and Sean Cunningham (born in California). The Dutch actually won those first two games (74-71 over Estonia and another win over Portugal), but they ended up as notches in the loss column after FIBA’s decision. Incidentally Kherazzi is set to play for Orange Lions this year, while Cunningham sits it out.
- The Netherlands, behind former national team player Toon Van Helfteren, were able to finally qualify again, though, after winning four of their six games in the second round of qualifications earlier this year. The Dutch were able to beat both Bulgaria (FIBA rank #49) and Montenegro (FIBA rank #74) twice to finish second behind Israel in their group. Their quotient was measured against the other second place teams in that round of qualification, and they were able to narrowly slip past Romania for the last spot in Eurobasket 2015.
- There are several players to watch on the Dutch team, despite the fact they currently have 0 players in the NBA. The top three guys who led them in the qualification phase were 6’11 Roeland Schaftenaar, 6’4 Arvin Slagter, 6’4 Worthy De Jong. Two guys to watch who have been recently added to the team are veterans Robin Smeulders (6’10) and Henk Norel (7’1). Smeulders played in the US NCAA for the University of Portland and currently plies his trade in the Beko Basketball Bundesliga in Germany, while Norel is a mainstay for CAI Zaragoza in the ACB Liga Endesa.
- Given its size, the Netherlands are expected to dominate Gilas in terms of rebounding and inside scoring. With Andray Blatche not 100% and guys like Asi Taulava, Moala Tautuaa, and Sonny Thoss severely undersized, we better be prepared for things to get ugly.


ESTONIA
- Estonia last played in the main Eurobasket tournament in 2001, losing all three of their games and finishing 14th out of 16 teams. They lost to Germany, the former Yugoslavia, and Croatia by an average of 29.3 points. Needless to say, it wasn’t their best showing.
- Estonia has only ever produced really just one NBA player — Martin Müürsepp from 1996-1998. Their current roster also has nobody playing in the US NCAA, but most of the players on their roster started playing pro ball in their late teens — something completely unheard of in the Philippines, where rookies enter the PBA in their mid-20s already.
- Despite that, Estonia was the top team in the first round of qualifications for Eurobasket 2015, which happened way back in the summer of 2013. They went 3-1 in their preliminary group, with wins over Portugal and the Netherlands (one of which was by default) and then proceeded to beat both Belarus and Bulgaria on aggregate in the knockout rounds to be one of the early qualifiers. 
- There really is no huge do-it-all star for the Estonians, but, rather, there are several names who can put big dents into Gilas 3.0. Foremost among these is Rain Veideman, a 6’4 guard who plays for one of Estonia’s top pro clubs, BC Kalev/Cramo. Along with fellow BC Kalev/Cramo wingman Gregor Arbet (also 6’4) and big man Reinar Hallik (6’10, playing for BC Rakvere Tarvas), Veideman forms a wicked sweet-shooting trio that tossed in an average of 5.4 triples per game in the qualifying phase. They are ably supported by the frontcourt duo of Janar Talts (6’9) and Kristjan Kangur (6’7), while Tanel Sokk takes care of the ball distribution. 
- This is a very balanced, solid, and disciplined crew that coach Tiit Sokk has assembled. Without a doubt, it will be nothing short of an upset if Gilas finds a way to beat this team. Though they aren’t nearly as big as the Dutch, the Estonians are definitely stronger from the perimeter and should prove to be a good approximation of how Gilas will fare against other guard-oriented Asian squads like Korea, Japan, and Taiwan.


ICELAND
- The last team our boys will play in Estonia is Iceland, which will play in the Eurobasket main event for the first time in history. Like Estonia, this small European state has produced just one NBA player ever - 7’2 giant Pétur Karl Guðmundsson, who was drafted in 1981 by the Portland Trail Blazers after he finished his US NCAA career with the University of Washington Huskies. Most of Iceland’s national team players ply their trade in the Dominos League (the country’s top division), with a couple of players in the national pool - Kris Acox and Martin Hermansson - currently playing for different colleges in the States. 
- Iceland failed to qualify to Eurobasket 2015 during the first phase in 2013, but they successfully booked a ticket to the main tournament after finishing second in their group in the second phase this year. They went 2-2 in their four game campaign opposite Bosnia & Herzegovina and Great Britain. Iceland lost both contests to the Baltic state, but they bounced back and defeated the Brits twice, 83-70 and 71-69. 
- The guys to watch here are Jon Stefansson, Haukur Palsson, Axel Vilhjálmsson, and Logi Gunnarsson, all of whom are outstanding three-point shooters. Stefansson, in particular, is a dead shot. The 6’3 sniper averaged 3 treys per contest in the qualifying games en route to leading the team in scoring with 22.0ppg. He played for Unicana Malaga in the most recent ACB Liga Endesa season and is projected to be Iceland’s top gun in Eurobasket. Complementing him are Palsson, Vilhjálmsson, and Gunnarsson, who all tossed in at least one three-pointer per game in the qualification tourney. Aside from 7’2 Ragnar Nathanaelsson, there really is nobody on the Iceland team that stands above 6’8, but in spite of their lacking size, frontliners like Hlynur Bæringsson and Pavel Ermolinskij have proven to be up to the task of battling for those rebounds. Ermolinskij, at 6’8, is also, strangely enough, the team’s #1 playmaker, handing out more than 6 dimes per contest int he qualifying rounds.
- Gilas shouldn’t have much of a problem matching up with Iceland’s size, but our guys’ perimeter defense will certainly be tested. Expect Iceland to rely heavily on its guards and wingmen, much like Estonia. It goes without saying that Gilas 3.0 will have their work cut out for them.


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