MANILA, Philippines – Members of the Gilas Pilipinas national team were disheartened to find out that the squad has been "uninvited" to the 2013 William Jones Cup in Taiwan, which will take place in July.
Host country Taiwan decided to withdraw its invitation to Gilas, the defending champion, due to the diplomatic tension between Taipei and Manila stemming from the death of a Taiwanese fisherman in Philippine waters last May 9.
"Sinabi nila na hindi na nila tayo pwedeng imbitahin sa Jones Cup, because – exact words – they cannot take responsibility for our safety," Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes said.
"Medyo ninenerbyos ang mga organizers na hindi daw nila mapapangalagaan ang safety at seguridad ng players natin, ng team natin, kaya sinabi nila na minabuti nila na wag na tayong imbitahin," he added.
Gilas guard Gabe Norwood said it was "very disheartening" for the team, especially as they will be unable to defend their title.
"As a competitor, you wanna go out and defend your title. And especially, it was for our preparation. We want to see the other teams and do some scouting, but unfortunately it didn't work out for us," Norwood said.
The Jones Cup was supposed to be part of the national team's build up for the FIBA Asia Championship, which will take place in Manila this August.
"Sayang talaga," said Gilas point guard LA Tenorio, who was named Most Valuable Player in the Jones Cup last year.
"Merong panghihinayang na nararamdaman, kasi defending champion kami," Tenorio said. "And at the same time, pagkakataon namin na makita kung sino 'yung makakalaban namin for the FIBA Asia."
"Karamihan kasi ng teams na maglalaro doon (Jones Cup), yung mga maglalaro din sa FIBA Asia. So saying lang," he added.
Upon hearing the news of the diplomatic tension between Taiwan and the Philippines, Tenorio was already worried that the national team would be somehow affected. "True enough, naapektuhan nga kami ng sobra," he said.
Both Norwood and Tenorio are doing their best to see the positive side of the situation.
"Time will tell if this really helps us or hurts us. We just have to stay together, spin this into a positive and try to find something good of it," Norwood said.
"Baka maging blessing ito na hindi pa kami nakasama sa Jones Cup. Baka 'yung ibang tournament na pupuntahan namin mas ma-develop kami as team, ang bonding namin as a team," Tenorio said.
Tenorio also noted that Gilas' non-participation in the Jones Cup means that the national teams of other Asian countries will be unable to scout them.
Tenorio, who won the Best Player of the Conference plum in the recently concluded PBA Commissioners Cup, also stressed that the national team was in high spirits even as they received the bad news.
"Everybody's okay naman, but after the decision na narinig namin, medyo problemado din ng kaunti, napa-isip-isip din kung ano 'yung next step na pwedeng gawin," Tenorio said.
"But the practice itself was very intense and very excited lahat," he added.
Gilas Pilipinas will need to finish in the top three in the FIBA Asia tournament in order to qualify to the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Barcelona, Spain next year. -- With a report from Dyan Castillejo, ABS-CBN News