MANILA, Philippines - Gilas Pilipinas finally gets a first warm-up game five months before its FIBA World Cup journey as it tangles with a PBA select team in the keenly awaited PBA All-Star Game that culminates the PBA All-Star Week festivities today at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
The Nationals and the PBA All Stars collide at 5 p.m. in a reprise of the 2013 All Star Game where the theme was also flag and country.
It will be remembered that Gilas barely salvaged a 124-all tie on a last-second three-point shot by Jeff Chan then.
The Nationals, however, went on to work on things needed done and, in August, made a successful run in the Asian meet that rewarded them a ticket to the coming world joust in Spain.
Gilas will be back in action for the first time after that glorious 11 nights in August, and the Nationals hope to make this All-Star Game a good takeoff point for their World Cup buildup.
Gilas’ target in its Spanish jaunt is at least two wins in group plays to make the knockout stage. The Philippines is grouped with Argentina, Greece, Puerto Rico, Croatia and Senegal.
“(It’s a) good opportunity for us to get together again since last August, but I’m not really expecting much,” said Gilas coach Chot Reyes.
But All-Stars coach Tim Cone and his troops vow to give the Nationals a fight that could help their World Cup preparation.
“It’s not going to be fun. It’s going to be serious. It will be a battle,” said Cone.
“Our team is here for two reasons. One is for the fans. We want to represent ourselves well. Second, we’re here for Gilas. We’re here to get them better,” Cone pointed out.
Arwind Santos and company almost pulled the rug from under the Nationals last year with Reyes opting to sit out naturalized player Marcus Douthit.
Gilas assistant coach Jong Uichico said Douthit is definitely playing this time.
Beau Belga, a late addition to the national pool last year, is moving over to the Gilas side tonight. Other additions to the Gilas group are Jared Dillinger and Paul Lee.
Voted by the fans to start for the All Stars are Greg Slaughter, James Yap, Mark Barroca, Chris Ellis and Mac Baracael. Coming off the bench are Santos, Calvin Abueva, Marcio Lassiter, Sonny Thoss, Joe Devance, Niño Canaleta and PJ Simon.
“We’ll do our part. We’ll make the fans happy and do our best to give Gilas a good game,” said Yap.
“Last time, kasisimula pa lang namin magsama-sama noon. The situation is different now,” said Marc Pingris, confident they can easily ward off the challenge.
“Of course, we also know that the pressure is on us. If they lose, no one would get mad at them. On the other hand, we lose and we hear a mouthful,” Pingris also said.
It will not just be a battle for pride as the PBA board has put up a cash prize of P100,000 for the winning team.
The dance-off after the call-out ceremony will still be there. At stake is P50,000.
“Sa kanila na yong P50,000, amin yong P100,000,” said Pingris.