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Gilas has height, speed vs Japan

MANILA, Philippines — A Gilas Pilipinas team with height, speed, shooting and versatility could well be formed from the 16 players where coach Chot Reyes chooses his final 12 in his game against  Japan in the opener of the FIBA Asia World Cup qualifier on Friday in Tokyo.

This was glimpsed in the national pool’s tune-up games against Rain or Shine and NLEX after their three-day training camp at Taal Esplendido.

And Team Phl can only be a lot more formidable as naturalized player Andray Blatche, set to arrive last night from China, finally joins the pool in training today.

Uncertain is the status of Terrence Romeo with an injured knee.

Nonetheless, Gilas team manager Butch Antonio said they will bring all 16 pool players to Japan where the national coach decides on his final roster before the team managers and technical officials meeting on the eve of the match set at the Komazawa Sports Gymnasium in Tokyo.

June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, Raymond Almazan, Gabe Norwood, Allein Maliksi, Troy Rosario, Matthew Wright, Kiefer Ravena, Kevin Alas, RR Pogoy, Mac Belo and Carl Bryan Cruz joined the coaching staff and management in attending the sendoff rites hosted by sponsor Chooks To Go in Crown Plaza Hotel yesterday.

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Jayson Castro, Calvin Abueva and Romeo were absent as they’re nursing different health problems.

Gilas opens its campaign in this reformatted Asian “WC” qualifier with an “away” game before playing its first home game on Nov. 27 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum versus Chinese Taipei.

Reyes likes their chances against Japan and Chinese Taipei. Even then, the Gilas coach vows not to leave any stone unturned in their preparations for their first two games in the WC qualifiers.

“Our hope as a coaching staff with coach Jong (Uichico) and coach Josh (Reyes) is to be up to the task in preparing the best game plan possible to compete against Japan and Chinese Taipei. We’re not looking beyond that,” said Reyes.

Runners-up in FIBA Asia Championship in 2013 in Manila and in 2015 in Changsha, the Filipinos are the odds-on picks against the Japanese and the Taiwanese.

Against Japan, Reyes’ concern is how to overcome the hosts’ home-court advantage.

Reyes and his pool leave for Tokyo as early as Tuesday to acclimatize with the cold weather prevailing in Japan now.

Who will be in? And who will be out?

“We really don’t know yet at this point. We will make the lineup the night before the lineup is due,” said Reyes.

And even with an assurance from Blatche that he’s finally due last night, Reyes braces for the worst.

“We have to prepare as if we don’t have a naturalized player,” said Reyes, disappointed on the never-ending delays in each of Blatche’s Gilas stints.

“I’m just as curious as anyone else if he gonna arrive (last night),” sad Reyes.

Shoo-ins to make up the frontcourt with Blatche are Fajardo, Aguilar and Almazan.

With Romeo doubtful, Castro, Ravena and Alas are the team’s options at the point. Abueva, Cruz, Wright, Norwood, Rosario, Belo, Pogoy and Maliksi fight for spots in the wings.

All candidates are Gilas veterans, including Norwood who’s been serving the national team since the 2007 Asian joust in Tokushima, Japan.

With the pool from the 2013 Asian meet are Castro, Fajardo and Aguilar.

Watchers believe this pool has what it takes to compete well against Japan and Taipei.

But Gilas may face an uphill battle against Australia which the Nationals battle in February.

The Philippines, Japan, Taipei and Australia figure in a double-round home-and-away battle with the top three advancing to the next round.

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