MANILA, Philippines—Gilas Pilipinas went straight to work on Thursday afternoon at the Moro Lorenzo Gym in Katipunan, with interim coach Mark Dickel immediately putting them through a rigorous, three-hour training session.
The young team learned not just from Dickel, TNT's active consultant, but also Gilas program director Tab Baldwin, and assistant coaches Sandy Arespacochaga, Alex Compton, and Topex Robinson.
It is a promising start for a team that only has two weeks to prepare for its first game. Gilas Pilipinas takes on Thailand on February 20, to open their campaign in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers.
"Sobrang intense," Columbian Dyip guard CJ Perez said of their practice. "Parang nakakapanibago kasi di naman ganu'n 'yung practice namin sa mother team namin."
"So nakaka-excite na mag-practice lalo na 'pag ganu'n 'yung mga coaches," he added.
Dickel said that while the first practice was exciting, they are "a long way away."
"We got a lot of work to do in two weeks, to cover a lot of ground, to get us ready to play a good game come the first game," he said.
After Thailand, Gilas Pilipinas will next travel to Indonesia for its first away game scheduled on February 23.
The Philippines has traditionally dominated those match-ups in the Southeast Asian Games, but Dickel warns that he and his team cannot afford to take their upcoming opponents lightly.
"Both of those teams in the SEA Games with a different roster than what we're going to have, presented us with problems," he said.
A team of PBA players and coached by Ginebra's Tim Cone beat Indonesia 97-70 in the semifinals, then trounced Thailand 115-81 in the gold medal game.
"They're gonna be difficult games for us," Dickel warned. "We gotta approach them like we're playing teams that are capable of beating us because if we don't come ready, we can be in trouble in those games."
To prepare for the qualifiers, the team will hold practices every day.
"We don't have the luxury like Gilas teams of the past, where you would have your summer tournaments to go away to Spain or to Turkey or wherever and spend time together," Baldwin said. "We don't have that luxury."
"So we replaced that with this daily commitment to building a team and building a system and building a culture," he added.
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