MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippine national basketball team is facing an uphill climb in its preparation for the upcoming window of the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers.
This was the admission of former Gilas Pilipinas standout Marc Pingris, who has joined the national team program as an assistant coach at the behest of Chot Reyes.
The 40-year-old Pingris, a veteran of several FIBA competitions including the 2014 World Cup, joined the team in training for the first time on Monday morning at the Moro Lorenzo Gym.
"Noong tinawagan ako ni Coach Chot na willing ka ba na tumulong sa Gilas, ang dali naman sagutin niyan coach," Pingris said during the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum on Tuesday.
"Kahit sino ba namang tawagan niyo, para sa bayan naman eh, talagang o-oo naman diyan eh," he added. "So, um-oo ako, and sabi ko nga, talagang nagpapasalamat ako sa kanya na kinuha niya talaga ako."
But while he was grateful for the opportunity to return to the national team program, Pingris also acknowledged that they have a tough job ahead -- something he told Reyes outright.
"Sinabi ko kay Coach talaga, sobrang bigat nang tinanggap mo ngayon, sabi ko sa kanya. Sobrang bigat," said Pingris.
Reyes was appointed as Gilas coach just last March 31, replacing Tab Baldwin, who, according to the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, stepped aside in order to focus on Ateneo de Manila University's campaign in the UAAP.
That gave Reyes less than a month to prepare for the World Cup Asian qualifiers, set for February 24-28 at the Araneta Coliseum. Moreover, he did not have the entire national team pool available, and wound up augmenting the team with players from his TNT Tropang GIGA squad.
Pingris, who is familiar with the difficulties of getting the national team together, won't deny that the circumstances have made for a tough build-up heading into the FIBA window.
"Aminin ko man sa inyo, sasabihin ko man sa inyo, alam ko na hindi pa siguro gaano ready 'yung team dahil binubuo niya pa lang talaga," he explained.
Because there's so little time to prepare, Gilas was unable to go to the international training camps that Pingris was accustomed to during his time with the squad. He also expressed concern about the lack of opportunities for "bonding" among the team.
"Kasi 'pag nagtatayo ka kasi ng team talaga, uunahin mo talaga diyan, bonding bago 'yung magandang practice," he said. "Kasi 'pag practice agad tapos wala namang bonding 'yung mga player, watak-watak naman sila, kahit anong galing ng mga 'yan, hindi mabuo ang team."
Pingris admires Reyes' willingness to take on the challenge, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded their woes. It has been difficult to organize tune-up games, with members of TNT, in effect, serving as practice players for the national team.
"'Yun ang ginagawan namin ng paraan ngayon, para maging solid 'yung team ngayon," said Pingris.
Given their less-than-ideal build-up, and the tough games on their schedule, Pingris could only ask for prayers and support for the national team.
"Sana, humihiling ako ng pray at saka tulong sa mga Pilipino na kahit sana anong mangyari dito sa Gilas na 'to, kailangan talaga namin ng support nila, ng dasal nila," he said.
"Win or lose naman, nire-represent talaga namin dito is 'yung bayan natin, hindi 'yung apelyido natin," he added. "Sana suportahan pa rin tayo ng mga fans natin na mga Pilipino. Dahil para sa bayan naman natin 'to eh, para sa kanila 'to."
Gilas will play South Korea on February 24 and 28, India on February 25, and New Zealand on February 27.