As Gilas Pilipinas will no longer have naturalized center Andray Blatche for the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon, head coach Chot Reyes admitted that the team’s confidence is currently low, for Blatche’s loss is a huge gap to fill.
“Very, very low,” said the outspoken mentor, after Gilas’ practice Thursday night at the Upper Deck Gym in Pasig City.
“I mean we’re going to fight. We’re going to fight like hell but we have to manage expectations.”
Reports circulated days ago that Blatche was not keen in playing for Gilas in the biennial continental meet. Reasons have yet to be disclosed by Blatche himself, but Reyes believes that the air will be cleared soon.
“I think he’s gonna issue a statement soon,” said Reyes.
Another concern for Reyes and Co. is the turnout of Gilas cagers in every practice session leading up to the Lebanon-hosted cagefest, which is always clouded with uncertainties owing to the players’ respective commitments.
“I thought we had 12 days practice and right, we have 12 days practice except not with the whole team, hindi kumpleto. It’s gonna be very, very difficult,” stressed the veteran tactician, as only 16 players showed up Monday night.
Still, the 53-year-old coach believes in his wards’ capability to endure all the challenges on the horizon.
“But you know these guys. They never quit, they never give up. Hopefully we can spring some surprises come FIBA Asia,” said Reyes, a coach for 24 years.
“It’s gonna be really difficult but we’re going to try our best.”
23 for 2023 cadet CJ Perez honored to help out Gilas
Having had the chance to represent the Philippines in FIBA-sanctioned cagefests such the Asia Challenge Cup and the 3X3 All-Stars back in 2016, Lyceum Pirates star CJ Perez is no stranger to the international stage.
But the 24-year-old do-it-all swingman admits that he still gets overwhelmed whenever he sees his seniors — the stars and pillars of the program — in the team. “Nasusurprise [pa rin] ako,” he said. “Mga professionals eh.
“Na-istarstruck pa rin ako sa kanila.”
Perez said so when he finally made his return within Gilas’ realms last Monday night. The last time he was with the National Team was in August 2016, when the SBP built an amateur-laden batch of Gilas cagers that served as the transition from the 2016 Olympic Qualifiers squad to the 2017 SEABA team.
“Sobrang grateful ako (sa invitation),” said the talented six-foot-two guard, after practice at the Meralco Gym.
The reigning NCAA Most Valuable Player is back in the fold for Gilas as his name, along with young, up-and-coming stars, was included in the 23 for 2023 pool — a list of cagers projected to be the contingent for the Manila-hosted World Cup.
“Iniisip ko yun (FIBA World Cup 2023) simula magtawag sila ng practice. Actually nandoon na yung utak ko eh,” the Lyceum Pirate ace bared. “Kailangan ko lang mag work hard pa para makapasok dun sa lineup na yun, kahit malayo pa.
“It’s an honor para ma-represent yung country.”
Unlike in 2016, Perez graced the court and took part in drills with the veterans such as Gabe Norwood, Japeth Aguilar, June Mar Fajardo, among others. With those type of players around him, he feels that the lessons he can get will be limitless.
“Oo sobra. Kahit kanino naman (matututo ka talaga),” Perez shared. “(At tsaka) Dito parang more on sa mental. ‘Di na iniisip yung conditioning kasi may ibang teams naman sila so about sa mental toughness [talaga].”
For now, the 23 for 2023 cadets are already working out not just for familiarity, but also to help the seniors in preparing for the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers this February.
“Sobrang happy and grateful na nakakatulong ako sa kanila kahit sa simpleng practice lang.”
Blistering Mikey Williams takes home Heritage Import of the Week honor
The resurgent Saigon Heat have been the thorn to topflight clubs teams Hong Kong Eastern Basketball Club and Nanhai Kung Fu, handing both squads their first losses in the eighth season of the ASEAN Basketball League. The Heat would not have done it without Filipino-American import Mikey Williams.
Williams, a 6-foot-2 guard out of Cal State Fullerton, dropped 39 points on 14-for-25 shooting to go along with seven rebounds and nine assists in Saigon’s 121-115 overtime win over Hong Kong.
The former NBA G-Leaguer followed it up with a sensational 24-point, five-rebound, and seven-assist outing in their 96-93 win over Kung Fu.
Overall, the 26-year-old guard averaged 31.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists, and 1.0 steals to edge out fellow Filipino AJ Mandani of the Singapore Slingers for the weekly award.
For the Local Player of the Week, two Alab Pilipinas stalwarts were the runners-up for the crown.
Reigning local Most Valuable Player Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. and his floor general Josh Urbiztondo had stellar weeks that earned them honorable mentions.
Urbiztondo, on the other hand, had norms of 14.5 points on a hot 9-for-17 clip from downtown.
Gilas still sticking with Andray Blatche, says team manager Butch Antonio
It will still be Andray Blatche
Gilas Pilipinas team manager Butch Antonio made it clear that naturalized Filipino Andray Blatche will be back for the second window of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers in February.
Blatche has yet to attend Gilas practices due to his commitment with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association, but Antonio said that they have already reached out to the said league for his temporary release.
“We have already made communication. We sent a letter already,” said the executive after Gilas’ practice Monday. “Kasi that’s the protocol now eh… You have to write a letter to the team through the CBA and you will just have to wait for their reply.”
It is still uncertain if and when the Flying Tigers will lend the naturalized center to Gilas, who will face Australia and Japan on February 22 and 25, respectively. But Antonio is confident that the ball club will let the former NBA cager go.
“More often than not naman they’ll release him. It’s just a matter of when.
“In our letter we identified pretty much when we start our daily practice, when we hopefully want to have him in, when we plan to leave for Australia and when he comes back and when he gets back to his mother team in China,” said Antonio.
It also helps knowing that the CBA will be on a break during the second window of the Asian Qualifiers next month, as all the teams will be preparing for the league’s playoffs that time.
Antonio also allayed fears that Blatche is hurt while in China. Those speculations rose early this January, as Blatche has only played in five games for Xinjiang so far.
“No, we were in touch with his agent, parang okay naman siya,” said the long-time Gilas official. “I think he has healed. The last time he played he was coming from that hamstring injury but I have not followed it because we’re busy.
“But I think he’s been playing in the CBA pretty well. And his team has been winning. So that’s good for us.”
Jong Uichico calls for pool players to be complete as Gilas brace for Aussies
Cause for concern?
In their second session for the second window of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, only nine of the 15 Gilas pool players actively participated.
June Mar Fajardo, Kiefer Ravena, Kevin Alas, Troy Rosario, Jiovani Jalalon, Carl Cruz, Gabe Norwood, Allein Maliksi, and Japeth Aguilar were in uniform while Roger Pogoy watched on the sidelines. Jayson Castro and Mac Belo were not present while Calvin Abueva and Raymond Almazan have yet to attend a session. 23 for 2023 cadets CJ Perez and Abu Tratter were called to duty to give the team added bodies.
The session ended earlier than usual, only practicing for around 45 minutes.
“Light lang naman. Some players had games last night,” said assistant coach Uichico, who together with Josh Reyes handled the night’s session. “Light lang pero we emphasized on some things in today’s practice, it’s more mental and a little bit of execution. “
With Gilas’ game against the 10th ranked Australia just 34 days away, Uichico expressed his concern that the Nationals won’t be as cohesive as they want it to be.
“It’s always a concern naman. We prefer once a week na lang naman, di pa tayo makumpleto,” expressed Uichico,
“We prefer really na makumpleto whether they practice or not, at least nandyan sila nanonood kung anong nangyayari.
“So mas mabilis yung pagtuto, especially if we put something new, at least nakikita nila kahit hindi nila naeexecute. We prefer and it’s really mandatory na nandito sila every Monday,” the mentor of the 2017 SEA Games team furthered.
Due to this, the staff of the team has yet to formulate a gameplan for the Aussies. A win against either the Boomers or Japan will automatically qualify Gilas to the next stage of the qualifiers.
“I don’t know. Our first plan is to practice everyday and then see if we can get the team complete as soon as possible.”
But as Gilas has proven time and time again, the multi-time PBA champion coach believes that they will overcome once more.
“There’s always challenges naman, especially the situation that we’re in. The PBA’s ongoing and we try to practice,” the soft-spoken tactician shared.
“There will always be challenges but every problem or challenge can be solved naman.”