Gilas Pilipinas’ practice session Monday night ended earlier than the usual 10 p.m. cut-off, with only eight players suiting up while seven others in street clothes.
But there was no feeling of worry whatsoever the for squad. In fact, the training session was just as exciting and intense as the previous ones even if the pool failed to do complete 5-on-5 drills.
Gilas fully understands that with some of the pool players preparing for games under their professional club teams (even some cadets were absent because they were preparing for PBA D-League matches), practices with relatively fewer available personnel is just part of the nature of the program.
What’s more important for Gilas is that the circle after practice for the usual “Laban Pilipinas, Puso!” battlecry at centercourt looked bigger than the team had been used to in the previous practices. The goal is to keep the circle big, and at the very least, prevent it from shrinking any further as the tournament continues to near.
“Guys who have games or who had games, and since there’s the PBA tomorrow, that’s our rule. You’re off. Some of the cadets might be playing in the D-League too so we are missing those fresh bodies. So yeah, we are missing those guys, we want to get those guys, but if we did enough teaching today to make it through one possession, then it is all worth it,” Compton said.
“Hopefully we got something accomplished.”
Possible match-ups against NBA-caliber players excite Gilas members
Gilas members also admitted they have already started thinking about potential match-ups against NBA-caliber international players.
Even if it is still a long way to go before the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament at home, just the mere thought of having a chance to play with the likes of Tony Parker, Nic Batum, Evan Fournier, Andrew Wiggins, Cory Joseph, and Kelly Olynyk, to name a few, gets them excited.
“At the end of the day, you have to make the team first. Right now it is just a pool. But at the same time, to (possibly) get those opportunities, that is something I am excited about whether it is France or New Zealand or being able to crossover and face another team like Turkey or Canada. As a competitor, that is what you look forward to. That is why we are here every Monday, getting ready,” Gabe Norwood said.
Matt Ganuelas added: “Me personally, Tuesday to Sunday I am focused on TNT, but on these Monday nights I am really able to put myself in a position to think about that. Coach Tab is putting it in our heads. That’s what we’re going through now so every Monday, for sure, it is always on my mind.”
But make no mistake, Gilas players will not approach those match-ups as if they were mere fans. They are up to the challenge, especially with tournament being played in front of their home crowd.
“Na-advise na rin namin kami ni coach Tab (Baldwin) na at the end of the day, pare-pareho lang kaming players. Talagang we will play them. Ayaw din namin ni coach na ganoon (starstruck) ang mindset. Syempre may pride (at stake) din dahil dito gagawin,” Japeth Aguilar said.
“For me, as long as we are really prepared, we can play with confidence talaga and we can do our best. Which is one thing na in-assure sa amin ni coach Tab na hindi kami magkukulang.”
On a lighter note, Aguilar, who is already used to playing against the best from around the world as he battled NBA stars back in 2011 and made the 2014 World Cup squad, is also hoping he can add another name to the list of players he has posterized in the international scene.
“Pag may chance, syempre i-te-take ko yung opportunity. Kagaya nung naka-tune-up namin yung France (in 2014). Never ko in-expect yun pero dumating. Kasi tingin natin sa kanila, talagang European, high-level basketball, pero of course, nangyayari pa rin yun,” Aguilar said of dunking over Ian Mahinmi in the past.