MIAMI, Florida – The Philippine men's national basketball team are honing their skills in Miami, Florida ahead of the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain this August and the Asian Games in Incheon, Korea in September.
"So far, Miami training has been great," said Gilas Pilipinas point guard Jimmy Alapag. "It's been tough. Here we are, Day 3, preparing for our second workout, and team's working very hard."
The Philippines has only played four times at the FIBA World Cup and won its first and only medal – a bronze – in 1954.
"After 40 years, nakabalik po tayo, at talagang pinagmamalaki po natin at proud na proud po kami," said Gilas forward Ranidel De Ocampo. "Ang promise po namin ay ibibigay po namin talaga ang lahat ng makakaya namin para ipaglaban ang ating bandila."
Gilas made plans to hold their week-long training camp in Miami so that former Washington Wizard center-forward Andray Blatche could join the team. Blatche last played for the Brooklyn Nets in the NBA.
The 6-foot-11 center, who was born and raised in Syracuse, New York, is now a naturalized Filipino, thanks to a law signed by Philippine President Benigno Aquino III last month.
"Thanks for having me and welcoming me into your country, and I'm very thankful," said Blatche.
The Gilas players are still keeping their fingers crossed that they can meet the Miami Heat's Filipino-American coach Erik Spoelstra and pick his brain.
"Kung paano niya buuin kasi 'yung Miami Heat dati, so gusto namin malaman kung ano 'yung sikreto nila, and then paano sila mag-practice, paano 'yung team," said Marc Pingris. "Sana makausap ko siya in person."
The chances of meeting the first Asian-American head coach to win the NBA championship twice are getting better after the team posted a tweet welcoming Gilas Pilipinas to Miami yesterday.
Gilas coach Chot Reyes had tweeted back and said they were hoping the Miami Heat can stop by their training camp.
The Philippine team, however, is not complete as shooter Larry Fonacier could not make it due to injuries. The team said the games must go on, however.
"He felt like it wasn't gonna be fair for all the other Gilas players if he would take a spot because he knew he wouldn't be able to give his all," said Jared Dillinger.
"Nanghihinayang kami, but ganoon talaga ang buhay. Sinabi ng doctor na kailangan niyang ipahinga," added Pingris, who also dedicated their performance to Fonacier.
The week-long training in Miami may not be enough, but the team said they are ready to take on the FIBA World Cup and are scheduled to fly to Madrid on August 4.
"We really need your support as we go forward in this our journey," Gilas swingman Gabe Norwood said in a message to their fans. "The Filipinos here, abroad, and all over the world, we appreciate you."