PBA-backed Gilas 2 toughest, best prepared

By Nelson Beltran, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jan 27 2013 10:34 AM | Updated as of Jan 28 2013 12:46 AM

MANILA, Philippines - With the all-out support of the national cage federation and the full backing of the pro league, a national team distinct from all previous PBA-backed PH squads will be formed, looking well capable of making a good run in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship.

The soon-to-be-formed Gilas Pilipinas II will feature PBA stars with a naturalized player and a battery of coaches with previous Asian meet experiences playing before home fans at the MOA Arena in Pasay City Aug. 1-11.

No other national teams have enjoyed all these privileges since the PBA allowed its players to don the national jersey in the 1990 Beijing Asian Games.

No team has had the benefit of playing with a naturalized player except the original Gilas Pilipinas squad that was built around Marcus Douthit. The PBA had token representations on that team, though.

No team either has had a returning coach from the previous Asian competition, except Rajko Toroman who handled Gilas Pilipinas in the 2010 Guanzhou Asian Games and in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan, China.

And, of course, no national team has played before Filipino crowd since the 1973 Asian Basketball Conference Championship when the iconic duo of Robert Jaworski and Ramon Fernandez led the home team to a historic title run at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum.

Gilas Pilipinas II will have all of these as it vies for a ticket to the 2014 FIBA World Cup in the Asian joust which Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas will host in August.

These are not lost on Meralco mentor Ryan Gregorio, an assistant coach in the previous Gilas Pilipinas team, who is now excited for all the personalities who would make the team embarking on a journey to land the 2014 Spain world championship.

"We are in the best situation to make our mark in the global scene. I believe coach Chot (Reyes) and coach Jong (Uichico) who both have been national coaches before are tailor-made for the task at hand," said Gregorio.

"They have an enormous understanding of international brand of basketball. The presence of Marcus Douthit as a naturalized Filipino is also a tremendous boost in our campaign. The PBA has also taken the initiative to lend all its resources to form the best team possible. But I believe that the biggest advantage that we have is that it is going to be played in our home country," he added.

He was part of Toroman's coaching staff in the last Asian Games and FIBA Asia tourney and among deputies by Reyes in their triumphant Jones Cup campaign, but not in Gilas' current journey in Hong Kong.

"I'm blessed to have the opportunity to be part of the Smart Gilas team under coach Chot that won the Jones Cup crown, and it is every coach's dream to be part of such a nationalistic endeavor. If the opportunity comes again and I get drafted to serve the country in whatever capacity, I would certainly make myself available," Gregorio said.

A good shot to make the global meet became possible as SBP reaped the fruits of its persistence and patience, gaining the hosting rights of the Asian joust, then the PBA committed full backing, giving coach Chot Reyes leeway to revise his current pool of players. The pro league also agreed to further shorten its season-ending tourney, giving way to the preparation of the national squad in the run-up to the Asian meet.

Again, no team has had as many privileges.

The Northern Cement team of coach Ron Jacobs had naturalized reinforcements but the core was made up of young amateur players.

Coach Robert Jaworski, meanwhile, had an all-pro selection for the 1990 Beijing Asiad but was given just two weeks to prepare the team.

Neither coaches Norman Black (1994 Hiroshima), Tim Cone (1998 Bangkok), Uichico (2002 Busan), Reyes (2007 Tokushima) and Yeng Guiao (2009 Tianjin) enjoyed as many perks.

Reyes and Uichico will be back together in the war room, drawing the team’s battle plans. Reyes is the first coach given a second chance to call the shots in a PBA-backed national team.

The home court advantage, however, could well be the biggest difference for Smart Gilas II.

The FIBA Asia Championship (formerly ABC Championship) has been held in the country twice in 1960 and 1973. The PH squad ended up triumphant on both occasions.