Gilas dilemma: Where are the SMC players?


MANILA, Philippines -- Now it can be told. 

With Marc Pingris' latest withdrawal from the national pool, there will be no player from the San Miguel Corporation (SMC) bloc in Gilas Pilipinas when they vie for the lone Olympic spot for Asia in the coming FIBA Asia Men's Championship in China next month. 

Disappointed fans have vented their frustrations on social media on the players for turning their back from the country with assortment of excuses but Philstar.com learned from a source privy to details that the players were released by SMC management to the national pool only to be pulled out one by one privately. 

"Papunta na si Marc (Pingris) sa Gilas practice last night pero tinawagan siya na 'wag nang tumuloy," the source said.

The 33- year old Pingris and even LA Tenorio were reportedly asking for their release to the national pool even up to the 11th hour to no avail. Both strongly felt that this would be their last chance to play for Gilas as they are not getting any younger plus the opportunity to vie for a spot in next year's Rio Olympics is too good to pass up according to the source. 

June Mar Fajardo, Tenorio and Japeth Aguilar, who excused themselves with different health reasons, have made themselves scarce from media and the public since the national pool was announced two weeks ago. 

"Si June Mar na back-to-back MVP, ang lakas-lakas nung finals biglang may injury pala. Nakakapagtaka naman 'yun," the source said. 

The situation turned from worse to worst when Pingris' agent Ed Ponceja announced that his ward will be skipping the FIBA Asia tournament this year to focus on his team which welcomed a new coach after a title-less campaign in the PBA last season. 

READ: Pingris agent says ward to skip Gilas for now

While the SMC management keeps mum on the issue, Rain or Shine went public of their intention to just lend only one player in Gabe Norwood this time.  This came as a surprise after they gave up four players in the 2013 FIBA Asia tournament, the World Cup and Asian Games last year. 

Asian basketball blogger Enzo Flojo posted on social media a FIBA rule on the ballclubs' obligation to the national cause shortly after news broke out that Pingris will also be skipping the FIBA Asia tournament after saying in previous interviews that he is itching to play for Gilas. 

READ: Pingris ready to join Gilas upon return

The series of pull-outs of the SMC players is only one of the setbacks that this MVP-backed Gilas program is facing as they gear up for the Olympic qualifier next month. 

The string of injury woes started with Ranidel de Ocampo (hamstring).  Then came Kelly Williams (knee) getting injured during Gilas' first official practice that kept him out from the pool.  Naturalized player Andray Blatche (prostatitis), Dondon Hontiveros (calf strain) and Terrence Romeo (flu virus) fell one by one in sickbay though they are expected to be back soon. 

A training camp in Turkey has also been scrapped due to travel document woes and now the Gilas is left practically cramming and scrambling for games while the other Asian powerhouse teams are already in tip-top shape and ready to go to war. 

With five weeks to go before the FIBA Asia Men's Championship, Gilas coach Tab Baldwin is facing a daunting challenge of whipping up the players left in the national pool to become a cohesive team to avert what could become a disastrous showing for the Philippine team that just went on to win one game in the World Cup last year. 

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