Gilas Pilipinas is set to kick off its participation in the 2023 Heyuan WUS International Basketball Tournament in Guangdong, China against Iran, but it will have to navigate the challenge without some key players.

Notably absent from the lineup are Utah Jazz standout Jordan Clarkson, promising big man Kai Sotto, and Scottie Thompson.

Stepping onto the court for Gilas will be the seasoned duo of June Mar Fajardo and Japeth Aguilar, who will be taking the lead role. Clarkson will be unavailable due to his scheduled travel from Los Angeles to Manila next week, while Thompson is recovering from a metacarpal fracture in his shooting hand.

The team’s journey begins with a matchup against Iran at the Heyuan Sports gymnasium on Thursday. Despite the absence of some key players, Gilas is aiming to make a strong start in the tournament. Their initial practice took place in the same gym shortly after their arrival in Heyuan.

Standing at 6 feet 10 inches, Fajardo, and the 6-foot-9 Aguilar, bring a wealth of experience to the team, having previously represented the Philippines in the 2014 and 2019 editions of the FIBA World Cup.

In the 2014 FIBA World Cup held in Seville, Spain, both players were instrumental in the Philippine team’s historic victory over Senegal with a score of 81-79 in overtime. This triumph marked the Philippines’ first win on the global stage in over four decades.

Another notable match awaits Gilas as they are set to face Senegal on Friday, renewing their rivalry for the first time since their encounter in 2014.

Amid the unexpected absence of the 7-foot-3 Kai Sotto, who was originally slated to be part of the lineup, Gilas coach Chot Reyes remains optimistic about the team’s prospects. He emphasized that the team is in high spirits despite the sudden turn of events involving Sotto’s availability for the China tournament.

Interestingly, Reyes chose not to comment on Sotto’s current status within the Gilas team, focusing instead on the upcoming challenges and the team’s overall outlook.