MANILA, Philippines - Gilas Pilipinas vowed to give its best to help the country in its perilous journey back to the World Championship, willing to go through the hard grind as the team kicked off its six-month buildup for the Fiba Asia qualifier.
"We fought hard to get the hosting rights (for the first time) after 40 years. Thank you for being here. Let's go to Spain," business mogul and Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Manny V. Pangilinan told the pool members who gathered together for the first time Monday at the PhilSports Arena in Pasig.
PBA commissioner Chito Salud and SBP executive director Sonny Barrios also gave the team morale-boost before coach Chot Reyes conducted their first official practice for the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship on home soil.
"Kung hindi ngayon, kailan? Kung hindi tayo, sino? (If not now, when? If not us, who?)" said Salud, recalling the challenge they put on themselves in their time as student leaders during the Marcos regime.
The PBA chief then challenged the players to put up a united front and be the ones to bring the country back on the world basketball stage.
"Your country is behind you," said Barrios, assuring the players that every Filipino will be behind them in their bid to make the grade for the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.
Gilas Pilipinas needs just to make the top three in the 2013 Asian meet to qualify for the world competition set in Spain.
The last time the Asian Championship was held in the country in 1973, the Nationals, then led by future PBA Hall of Famers Robert Jaworski, Ramon Fernandez, Bogs Adornado, Francis Arnaiz and Abet Guidaben, went all the way to win the coveted crown.
Chronicles of the 1973 saga, from the tryouts to the training, the competition and the championship (copied from the scrap book of Adornado), were distributed to each member of the pool before practice Monday.
The last page is a letter to be signed by the players, indicating their full commitment to the national cause.
"Sign if you're committed to do it," said Reyes.
All players named to the pool were present, except Rain or Shine's Jeff Chan who excused himself due to an injury.
"Loved d energy & engagement. Everybody present. Good start," said Reyes on his Twitter account later.