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.”
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