MANILA, Philippines -- Gilas Pilipinas conducted its longest practice so far on Monday evening at the Meralco Gym, with head coach Yeng Guiao putting the team through its paces repeatedly.
Thirteen players showed up to practice, including Ateneo de Manila University star Thirdy Ravena who arrived at the gym shortly after helping the Blue Eagles win the PCCL National Championship.
Only naturalized center Andray Blatche was missing. He will arrive on February 1 to reinforce the squad.
"It's a little easier making the adjustments," Guiao said after the practice, which lasted nearly two hours. "Lahat naman, except si (Roger) Pogoy at (Mark) Barroca, already experienced playing for me. So it's an easier adjustment."
Outside of Barroca and Pogoy -- and, of course, Blatche -- every player in the line-up had already suited up for Guiao, in one team or the other. But the coach is confident that the two players can catch up very quickly, and learn the system quite easily.
"I don’t think there’s going to be any problem. They’re also very intelligent, mataas naman ang IQ," he pointed out.
"And Mark Barroca is experienced. Si Pogoy naman is naturally adapted to the system because he can shoot the outside shot. He’s just a very good two-way player na can play offense, can play defense," he added.
Indeed, even though this is just their third full practice, Guiao already sees the team's chemistry improving.
The problem, however, is that for all of their progress they remain pressed for time.
Gilas Pilipinas plays Qatar on February 21, and Kazakhstan on February 24, in a pair of must-win games in the FIBA World Cup Asian 1ualifiers. Both games are on the road, and that gives the team a unique set of challenges outside of the competition itself.
"Kahit anong gawin natin, talagang magkukulang naman sa oras," Guiao acknowledged.
"Ang medyo apprehension ko lang is we might not get enough tune-up games as we want," he also said. "Kasi nga si Blatche darating siya ng February 1st, aalis ng February 11. So within that time, we have to squeeze in as much as time as we can playing together."
The plan is for them to play Alab Pilipinas in tune-up games, but as of now there are no other potential opponents for the Philippine team.
"We're really pressed for time and we’re pressed for opportunities to play some other teams," said Guiao, admitting that they don't want to play local Qatar teams as they are worried about getting scouted.
A plan to play a team from Israel is also unlikely to push through, he added. Their best bet, said Guiao, is to fly to Qatar on February 16, meet up with Blatche there, and practice twice-a-day with the naturalized player ahead of their game.
But the bulk of their preparations will come in Manila, he also said.
"I think we have to do everything here now. Kailangan mapaghandaan namin lahat dito pa lang," Guiao said.
The team is expected to start practicing three times a week next week, when Blatche arrives from China.
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