Team Pilipinas answers the call
Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - September 23, 2015 - 10:00am

CHANGSHA – The Philippine national basketball team is out to prove a point at the FIBA Asia Championships here and the Gilas players won’t hold back in going full throttle for the ticket to represent the region at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics next year.

“These guys answered the call, no matter what,” said Gilas team manager Butch Antonio the other day. ”Some guys couldn’t make it for one reason or another but we’re not thinking of that. Everyone’s just working hard. We’re doing the best we can. The guys are committed. Our trip to Cebu was a positive experience. We all got closer as a team with each other and with coach Tab (Baldwin) and the staff.”

In Gilas’ abbreviated training program, the team played at the Four Nations Cup in Estonia, saw action at the Jones Cup in Taipei, competed in another pocket tournament – the MVP Cup – in Manila then set up a five-day training and bonding camp in Cebu before leaving for China.

Norman Black was scheduled to arrive yesterday to join Baldwin’s staff which counts on Jong Uichico, Alex Compton and Josh Reyes. Gilas flew in from Manila last Monday with a delegation that included reserves Gary David and Troy Rosario.

Antonio said naturalized player Andray Blatche is working his way back into condition after not having played organized basketball since ending his Chinese league season last February. “We missed Andray in the Jones Cup and he could’ve used the games to sharpen up,” said Antonio. “But family is important. Andray had to go back to the US and be with his mother for the funeral of his uncle. He asked permission from coach Tab to go and was allowed.”

Antonio said the Cebu reception was overwhelming. “We practiced behind closed doors and fans waited outside for a chance to catch a glimpse of the players,” he said. “Everywhere the guys went, they were mobbed. On our last practice day, we opened it to the fans and the gym was packed. I thought it was such a boost for the guys to get that show of support from the fans.”

At practice the day before facing Palestine to open FIBA Asia hostilities yesterday, Baldwin ran drills on offense and defense. He worked on transition for easy baskets, went over half-court patterns to spot open three-point shooters in the corners and practiced trapping on the pick-and-roll to funnel the ballhandler to the sideline and force a poor pass.

“Every day, there’s progress,” said assistant coach Josh Reyes. “It’s not just offense or defense, it’s both and everyone’s buying into coach Tab’s system. We’re working as a team. On defense, we’re putting pressure on the shooters to release to the non-shooters. On offense, we’re looking for speed to finish in transition either with a layup or an open shot in the corners. Some guys are adjusting to coach Tab’s defensive system because it’s new to them. But everything’s proceeding as planned.”

Outside shooting was a focus at practice with situations created for gunners like J. C. Intal, Dondon Hontiveros, Terrence Romeo, Ranidel de Ocampo, Calvin Abueva, Jayson Castro and Blatche. In transition, Matt Ganuelas was the primary finisher. Anchoring the middle were Asi Taulava, Sonny Thoss, Marc Pingris and Blatche. Bringing up the ball was Gabe Norwood.

“In the preliminaries, coach Tab will manage the minutes of the guys,” said Antonio. “I expect him to go deep. We’ve got a lot of talent and coach Tab will want to spread out the minutes and keep the guys fresh for the finish.”

The Philippines hasn’t won the FIBA Asia title since coach Ron Jacobs brought home the bacon from Kuala Lumpur in 1986. In all, the Philippines has captured five championships but three came in the first four tournaments. Since the 2011 edition, the trend has been upwards as the Philippines finished fourth in Wuhan under coach Rajko Toroman and second in Manila in 2013 under coach Chot Reyes.

Only four players were carried over from the 2013 team that took second place. They were Norwood, Castro, Pingris and De Ocampo. So this year’s Gilas squad is almost a brand new version with Blatche replacing Marcus Douthit as the naturalized player and Baldwin checking in for Reyes. Baldwin was in Reyes’ staff as a consultant in 2013 and also worked with the team at the FIBA World Cup in Spain last year.


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