Gilas heads to Changsa for FIBA Asia quest

Joey Villar, Nelson Beltran - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines – Armed with a two-month training under a decorated international coach, Gilas Pilipinas departs on Monday for Changsha via a Cathay Pacific flight with a stopover in Hong Kong, carrying the nation’s hopes to see the country back in the Olympic basketball competition next year in Brazil.

Coach Tab Baldwin and his troops broke camp at the Meralco Gym Sunday noon in the presence of SBP officials, hopeful they have done the best preparation they could do for a shot at the coveted crown in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship slated Sept. 23-Oct. 3 in two venues in the Hunan province capital city.

Baldwin is confident they will improve even more in the next few days and hopefully be at peak form during the medal plays in the tourney offering one automatic Asian spot in the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics.

SBP president Manny V. Pangilinan commended each member of the team for their sacrifice and wished them the best in an Olympic quest the country last achieved in 1972.

Other well-wishers included SBP executive director Sonny Barrios, Meralco executive vice president Al Panlilio, former PBA board chairman Patrick Gregorio, and former coach and Meralco top official Ryan Gregorio.

The Nationals leave the country at noon on Monday, the latest assembly of PBA stars chasing the elusive Asian crown the country has never won for nearly three decades now.

“We have no other option but to win it all. It’s Rio or nothing,” said Ranidel de Ocampo, a Gilas player from 2010, playing key role in Team Phl’s fourth-place finish in Wuhan in 2011 and second-place windup in Manila in 2013.

“(The Filipino fans) can expect that they will be represented well. They can expect they will be proud of us because of the effort that we’ll give and God-willing we’ll get the result along with that,” said Baldwin.

“We’ll not let anybody down on how much we want this, how much we work and how much we want to win the gold medal,” Baldwin added.

The Gilas coach said their buildup would continue through the tournament proper, stressing the goal is a shot at the gold medal.

“We still have some 10 days before we get to the gold-medal round of the tourney. There would be more improvement for everybody,” said Baldwin.

“(We still have) more days ahead of us to prepare. We have some games we believe are important for us to obviously win.  Those games should help us for the games in the latter rounds where you’re gonna play the top teams in Asia,” Baldwin said, referring to their preliminary round games versus Palestine, Kuwait and Hong Kong.

As they broke camp in Manila, Baldwin said they’re sticking it out with their Final 12 but will also bring along reserves Gary David and Troy Rosario in Changsha, scene of major battles during the Sino-Japanese war from 1937-1945.

Every member of the team pointed to Andray Bratche as a weapon Team Phl has never had all these years.

“This is the first time Andray will play in the Asian event. We’ll see if anybody can stop Andray,” said De Ocampo, expressing great confidence with Blatche.

The nine-year NBA veteran has noticeably lost considerable extra poundage as he rejoined the team in training after the Jones Cup.

“Dray is getting better and better. That happens when you work. And he’s been working hard. He’s obviously a very valuable member of the team. He’s also valuable in terms of personality, character that he is,” said Baldwin.

“He’s better than he’s couples of weeks ago. And he’s still gonna get better,” Baldwin added.

Asi Taulava, Sonny Thoss, Marc Pingris, Gabe Norwood, Calvin Abueva, JC Intal, Dondon Hontiveros, Terrence Romeo, Jayson Castro and Matt Ganuelas-Rosser complete the cast that are determined to bring the Philippines back in the Olympics since the 1972 Munich Games featuring participation of the Phl quintet led by Jun Papa, Jimmy Mariano, Bogs Adornado, Manny Panner and Yoyong Martirez.

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