Revelations in Spain
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - August 13, 2019 - 12:00am

The Gilas traveling delegation returns home from Spain tonight with revealing stories of how the team performed during its 10-day training trip that included two friendlies in Guadalajara and two games in a pocket tournament in Malaga.

For sure, the trip was worth it. Coach Yeng Guiao brought the team to Spain mainly for bonding, conditioning and learning purposes. Chemistry is a critical ingredient as Gilas crams to prepare for the FIBA World Cup in China on Aug. 31-Sept. 15. The Gilas training pool won’t be complete to play a game until the PBA Commissioner’s Cup finals ends on Friday or Sunday and Kiefer Ravena’s suspension expires on Aug. 24.

There were 11 players whom Guiao took to Spain – Gabe Norwood, Mark Barroca, Beau Belga, Robert Bolick, C. J. Perez, Paul Lee, Poy Erram, Japeth Aguilar, Matthew Wright, Ravena and Andray Blatche. Ravena could only practice with the team and didn’t participate in the friendlies or the pocket tournament. Norwood suffered a groin strain in the second friendly and didn’t suit up for the pocket tournament where Guiao rotated only nine players. The 11 players are from nine different teams which is why Guiao put an emphasis on bonding in Spain. 

Blatche still isn’t in peak form. Against the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the first game of the pocket tournament, Blatche had 13 points in the first half, two in the third quarter and zero in the fourth period. Entering the payoff quarter, it was anybody’s game as Congo held a slim three-point lead. Blatche, however, was gassed out and couldn’t keep pace. If Blatche only showed the form he displayed in the last window of the FIBA Asia/Oceania World Cup qualifiers, Gilas would’ve won. But in the second game against Ivory Coast, Blatche was solid with 18 points, 18 rebounds, four assists and three steals to redeem himself. With Gilas trainer Dexter Aseron tied up with TNT in the PBA finals, Gilas contracted Spanish trainer and physiotherapist Jaime Capella to work with the group in Spain. Since Blatche is not yet 100 percent, it’s no wonder Guiao also put an emphasis on conditioning in Spain.

Playing Congo and Ivory Coast was a learning experience for Gilas, too, because they play a similar style as another African country Angola. The Philippines is bracketed with Angola, Italy and Serbia in the first round of the coming World Cup. For the record, the Philippines is ranked No. 31 by FIBA, Angola No. 39, Ivory Coast No. 64 and Congo No. 82. Guiao wanted the Gilas players to experience going up against tall and athletic African players to prepare for Angola. So Guiao put an emphasis on learning in Spain, too.

From the standpoints of bonding, conditioning and learning, it was mission accomplished in Spain. Gilas beat Congo, 102-80 and Ivory Coast, 94-83 in the friendlies then lost to Congo, 82-71 and repeated over Ivory Coast, 73-63 in the pocket tournament. Guiao said of the four outings, the best experience was the loss to Congo because it proved anything is possible in basketball. Gilas may have taken Congo lightly after blowing the team out by 22 in a previous friendly. 

SBP special assistant to the president Ryan Gregorio said Gilas’ performance in the first and second games in the pocket tournament was like night and day. “Coach Yeng was happy that we took better care of the ball,” he said. “We had 18 turnovers against Congo and only seven against Ivory Coast. The pocket tournament enabled us to gain confidence as we enter the last two weeks of preparation for the World Cup. Coach Yeng reminded the players to continue working on their three-point shooting, defense and master the offensive sets for it to be second nature for everyone. He also told the players to continuously improve and not to regress.”

Bolick was a revelation in Spain as he made a strong case for himself to be included in the 12-man roster for the World Cup. He averaged 20 points in the pocket tournament to lead Gilas in scoring with Blatche in second place. Bolick, 23, is the youngest in the pool and least experienced as a national player. But the former La Salle and San Beda guard showed guts, heart and the fighting spirit that the Philippines will need in battling world No. 4 Serbia and world No. 13 Italy in China, not to mention Angola.

Before leaving for home, Gregorio said “we will spend the rest of the time building our team and further improving our chemistry.” Tomorrow, Guiao is calling for practice at the Meralco Gym so there’s no rest for the weary.

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