Bigs upbeat on Gilas chances
Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - February 20, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Easily the tallest national team ever assembled to represent the country will attempt to preserve Manila’s bragging rights of winning the FIBA-Asia championship whenever it hosts the biennial tournament. It will be Manila’s third turn to stage the event after hosting and capturing the title in 1960 and 1973.

Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes’ 17-man pool lists a slew of “bigs” – 6-11 Greg Slaughter of N-Lex, 6-10 naturalized player Marcus Douthit, 6-10 JuneMar Fajardo of Petron, 6-9 Japeth Aguilar of Global Port, 6-7 Sonny Thoss of Alaska, 6-6 Ranidel de Ocampo and 6-6 Kelly Williams of Talk ‘N’ Text and 6-5 Marc Pingris of San Mig Coffee. Also in the mix are wings who play multiple positions – 6-4 Gabe Norwood and 6-1 Jeff Chan of Rain Or Shine, 6-2 Gary David of Global Port and 6-4 Jared Dillinger, 6-1 Ryan Reyes and 6-2 Larry Fonacier of Talk ‘N’ Text. In the backcourt are 5-8 L. A. Tenorio of Alaska and 5-9 Jimmy Alapag and 5-10 Jayson Castro of Talk ‘N’ Text.

Asked about Gilas’ chances of making it to the top three for a qualifying ticket to the FIBA World Championships in Madrid next year, the bigs were upbeat as they looked forward to playing before the homecrowd. But it will be far from easy sailing as top favorites China and Iran are expected to bring in giants.

China has five national players standing at least 7-0 even as Yao Ming has retired. They are 7-3 Sun Zhe, 7-3 Zhang Zhaoxu, 7-1 Wang Zhelin, 7-1 Wang Zhizhi and 7-0 Yi Jianlian. The team also has 6-11 Zhang Dayu and 6-11 Zhou Peng. Wang Zhizhi and Yi are NBA veterans while Zhang Zhaoxu played with the University of California varsity. Wang Zhelin, 19, suited up at the FIBA-Asia Cup in Tokyo last September and averaged 13.4 points and 10.4 rebounds in the absence of Olympians Wang Zhizhi, Yi Jianlian, Zhou Peng and Zhang Zhaoxu.

Heading the stratospheric Iranian frontline is 7-2 Hamed Haddadi, recently traded by the Memphis Grizzlies to the Toronto Raptors but still not activated due to visa issues. The other giants in the Iran roster are 7-0 Asghar Kardoust and 7-0 Rouzbeh Arghavan. No doubt, Gilas’ bigs will have their hands full keeping the Chinese and Iranian behemoths out of point-blank scoring position. The key will be movement, quickness and outside shooting in offense and denial, weak side help and low-block positioning in defense.

The Gilas bigs promised to be up to the task. Aguilar, 26, is back with Gilas after a brief hiatus that took him to tryout camps in the NBA and the NBA D-League. “It feels great to be back with Gilas and represent our country,” said Aguilar. “First practice was exciting. You can feel it from the other players that they’re excited, too and happy to be in the pool. We’re all competitors but we love to be teammates with each other. The fact that the FIBA-Asia Championships will be held in Manila gives us more reason to take our job seriously. The room for mistakes is very little. This opportunity might not happen again so we really need to grab it.”

Slaughter, 24, said he’s honored to play for flag and country. “I’ve been with Gilas since Day 1 when we won in Nanning (an invitational tournament in southwest China in 2008) and I’m happy to still be here,” said the former Ateneo star center. Our first practice was great and the new guys looked to be picking up the offense very well. The most memorable thing for me was (PBA) Commissioner (Chito) Salud, (SBP) executive director (Sonny) Barrios, boss MVP (Manny V. Pangilinan), boss (Ricky) Vargas and boss (Al) Panlilio all coming to show their support for the team and giving us inspirational talks.”

Slaughter said Reyes gave the team “a history lesson” about the last time Manila hosted the FIBA-Asia (then known as the Asian Basketball Confederation) Championships 40 years ago. “Coach gave us a booklet about the team of 1973,” said Slaughter. “I’m the tallest player on the team and will do whatever Coach wants. We’re a talented team with many pieces and I just have to play my role.”




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