SMART Gilas Pilipinas continued with their practice sessions on Sunday morning at the Meralco Gym in Pasig City, this time with naturalized center Andray Blatche finally joining the team after numerous delays to his arrival.
But it wasn’t just Blatche who made that Sunday morning meaningful. One of the greatest imports to ever play in the PBA, Sean Chambers, paid a surprise visit to the Nationals and watched them go through drills for nearly two hours.
“Every time he’s in the country, he always comes in and visits,” said Gilas head coach Chot Reyes of Chambers’ visit.
“We’ve always remained in touch.”
Reyes and Chambers actually have a deep relationship. According to Chambers, their friendship stems way back from 1991, when they won their first championship together with the storied Alaska franchise.
So it was only fitting for Chambers to visit his old pal at the place where, coincidentally, he first played ball in the Philippines. “This was the very first gym I practiced at,” said the 52-year-old, who had his very first PBA stint back in 1989.
The Los Angeles, California-native watched the Sunday practice attentively. Asked for his thoughts regarding this current batch of flag-bearers set to play for the 2019 FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, Chambers sung high praises.
“Very impressed with the big players – June Mar [Fajardo] and Japeth [Aguilar], and Almazan, they’re such tremendous skilled level players. And then the guard play, I’ve always been impressed with Jayson [Castro] and Gabe [Norwood] as they’ve been playing for such a long time,” opined the multi-titled Chambers. “But I was really very impressed with Kiefer [Ravena]; he’s really good.
“I think the chances of winning and representing the country is very high.”
As the workouts wrapped up, Chambers joined SMART Gilas’ post-game huddle. And after being introduced by Reyes to the younger cagers, the wide-bodied American was given time to give the whole squad a pep talk.
“I told them, this is so much bigger than them as individuals,” Chambers shared.
“All the Filipino workers overseas and here, myself, anybody that has a kind of love and respect for the Philippines, this is something we all watch and we’re definitely all rooting for them.”
After the huddle, Chambers shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with each of the players. And moments before he left the gym, the coaching staff gave him a souvenir: a collared Pilipinas shirt that the coaches wear in games.
Chambers wore the shirt and never took it off afterwards, making him look like one of Reyes’ deputies. Asked if there might come a time when he will aid his old friend on the sidelines, Chambers did not shun the idea.
“That’s starting to come more and more of my desire to, like, to come back to my second home. It’s no secret how much I love the Philippines after what it has done for me,” said Chambers, who is the Dean of Students in Fern Bacon Middle School in the US.
“But absolutely, mahal kita talaga, Pilipinas.”
Thirdy Ravena looks to make up for lost time with Kiefer in Gilas
Brothers Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena are close off the court. On the court, however, they missed one last ride together with the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles back in 2015.
During Kiefer’s final year of eligibility in the UAAP, Thirdy was declared ineligible due to not making the Ateneo’s grade quota for student-athletes.
Three years later, the two were again on the same court. And this time, they were not opponents in a tune-up game, but were both part of the Gilas pool. Kiefer is part of the seniors pool for the second window of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, while Thirdy is with the 23 for 2023 cadets.
“Basketball is a very small world. Alam niyo naman yun.
“You’ll never know who’ll your encounter in your professional career once again,” shared Kiefer, who is now a rookie with the NLEX Road Warriors.
For Thirdy, even if he was named as the UAAP Season 80 Men’s Basketball Finals Most Valuable Player, his inclusion to the pool was unexpected. Moreover, he admitted that the moment he stepped on the court of the Meralco Gym on Monday night felt surreal.
“Unang una di ko mapaniwalaan na napili ako kasama dun sa 23. Dati pinapanood ko lang yung Gilas maglaro internationally, hindi ko ma-imagine na nandun na ako sa possible listahan for possible candidates for 2023,” reflected Thirdy, who is four years younger than Kiefer. “It’s a blessing pero it’s also something I should work hard for.
“It’s also added inspiration, added motivation, to represent the country at the highest level of basketball kasi hindi lahat nabibigyan ng ganung chance. Suwerte na ako na maganda yung timing. It’s an honor na napili ako ng mga coaches atsaka nung management.”
Making it extra special for him is the possibility of playing side-by-side with Kiefer once more to make up for the time they had a chance to play together three years ago. His older brother has been dubbed as one of the cornerstones of the Gilas program in the next five years by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas.
“At least ngayon nabigyan kami ng chance makalaro with each other,” expressed Thirdy. “Kasi sa Ateneo na-miss ko last chance so ngayon parang bonus sa akin na may isa pa akong teammate atsaka kapatid ko pa. Parang natuturuan niya pa ako more than ng pina-practice namin atsaka nabibigyan pa niya ako ng tips while practicing.
“Blessing din nga na naging part kami ng pool, parehas kami.”
Kiefer, on the other hand, is just glad that he and his brother have been given this opportunity to play, train, and even go up against each other.
“Just being in the pool, just being in the same vicinity with Thirdy, it’s really kind of still new to me,” the two-time UAAP MVP confessed. “By the time I got used to being with him in Ateneo, next thing you know he wasn’t going to play next year. It’s something na I’ll get used to. In the long run, whether sa 2023 pa sila makakalaro, dun pa ako makakasali, dun ko siya magiging teammate, it’s fine.
“I’m sure it’s gonna be worth the wait for me and my parents.”
Gabe Norwood can’t wait for 2023
It was unusual to see Gabe Norwood — clad in a black coat, white long sleeves underneath, and a pair of black slim-fit slacks — come in late for Gilas Pilipinas practice on Monday at the Meralco Gym. But he had a valid reason for his attire and his tardiness.
“I got a close friend who had a wedding anniversary. I had to make sure I was there for the surprise,” he explained.
What Gilas’ captain saw inside the facility was unusual, too. Gilas’ pool for the second window of the FIBA World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers consists of only 15 players, but the number of players on the court was around 30.
Norwood admittedly did not know that the young 23 for 2023 cadets were also in attendance Monday night.
“I didn’t know the young guys were gonna be in, so I walked in late, I looked over and there was about 30 people in here,” a proud Norwood shared.
The veteran internationalist saw yet another generation of Gilas. And in that moment, the 32-year-old Filipino-American couldn’t help but look back on how the program has evolved, from its inception in 2007 up to now.
“It’s awesome to know that I’ve been a part of the program for so long and really see it grow and see where it’s going. It’s pretty awesome,” said Norwood, who has been with the Nationals since 2007 and has won two FIBA Asia silver medals.
Norwood, along with his fellow Gilas veterans, was able to see those young guns play as head coach Chot Reyes made them participate. Based on what he saw, the 10-year pro was very satisfied.
“The biggest thing for me was when we actually put in the offense, it seems like everybody picked it up pretty quick,” he shared. “Everybody seemed to come out and picked it up quick, and guys weren’t afraid to ask questions and learn.
“So I mean, if you’re willing to learn at this point, you’re in good shape.”
It has been said many times that the future of Philippine basketball is bright with the fresh talent Gilas has right now. And for Norwood, he himself is excited for how the young ones will fare against the world’s finest come the 2023 Worlds.
“I’ll be cheering from the stands, cheering my head off,” assured Norwood, who will be 38 by then.
“But I’m really excited for the group, who knows who’s gonna be in, playing here in Manila, so it should be an exciting time.”
23 for 2023 cadets join Gilas pool in first practice for 2018
It was a star-studded night in the Meralco Gym Monday evening as the best of the best in Philippine basketball converged for Gilas Pilipinas’ first session in preparation for the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.
With the Qualifiers just 44 days away, 11 players were present.
Kiefer Ravena, Troy Rosario, Allein Maliksi, Carl Cruz, Roger Pogoy, Mac Belo, Kevin Alas, Jio Jalalon, Japeth Aguilar, and Jayson Castro attended the practice.
Gabe Norwood arrived at around 8:29 in the evening.
Matthew Wright did not participate in the night’s drills as his club team Phoenix Fuel Masters had a game last Sunday.
Not present were June Mar Fajardo, Calvin Abueva, and Raymond Almazan.
Joining the night’s cast were the young guns that will hopefully be part of the Gilas team in the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
Collegiate champions Isaac Go, Thirdy Ravena, Javee Mocon, Robert Bolick, and Kemark Carino headlined the cast. Joining them are Paul Desiderio, J-jay Alejandro, Juan Gomez De Liano, Will Gozum, CJ Perez, Arvin Tolentino, and Jeo Ambohot.
Joshua Sinclair was present but in street clothes. He is still recovering from an ACL tear.
Each player were introduced and formally presented with their Gilas jersey by SBP chairman emeritus Manny V. Pangilinan, chairman Al Panlilio, vice chairman Robbie Puno, executive director Sonny Barios, and senator Sonny Angara.
Even if he is not part of the 23 dor 2023 list, Ricci Rivero was on the sidelines as a visitor.
The night’s session was led by coach Chot Reyes and assistant coaches Jong Uichico, Jimmy Alapag, Josh Reyes, and Ryan Betia.
The Philippines will face Australia at the Margaret Court Arena on February 22. Three days later, the country will host Japan at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Will Andray Blatche be part of Gilas pool?
SMART Gilas Pilipinas head coach went to social media platform Twitter to announce the 15-man pool for the second window of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.
The pool will consist of Jayson Castro, Kiefer Ravena, Kevin Alas, Jiovani Jalalon, Roger Pogoy, Matthew Wright, Allein Maliksi, Gabe Norwood, Calvin Abueva, Carl Cruz, Mac Belo, Troy Rosario, Raymond Almazan, Japeth Aguilar, and June Mar Fajardo.
Noticeably not in the list are Terrence Romeo and naturalized Filipino Andray Blatche.
Romeo is still in the midst of his therapy sessions to fix his right knee injury. Blatche however remains questionable.
The 6-foot-11 stretch big man is currently playing for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association. He is currently averaging just 12.8 points and 6.4 rebounds. It is unknown if he is injured as he has played just five games so far according to RealGM.com.
Blatche was able to play during the first window of the Qualifiers as the CBA was on break during that time. The 31-year-old averaged 9.5 points and 13.0 rebounds while committing a total of six turnovers in those two games.
Come February 22 — when Gilas takes on Australia on the road, the CBA will once again be on break as their regular season ends on February 11 while the playoffs begin on March 3.
Will Blatche be part of Gilas come the second window? Only coach Chot Reyes can answer that question when Gilas begins its preps on Monday, January 8.