MANILA, Philippines -- South Korea's withdrawal from the upcoming FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers has thrown "a monkey wrench" in the plans of Gilas Pilipinas, but head coach Chot Reyes stressed that the team cannot afford to lose focus.
The Philippine men's national basketball team was set to play Korea twice in the upcoming window, on February 24 and 28 at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.
South Korea has withdrawn from the event, however, citing health reasons. A player tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of their departure for the Philippines, with the rest of the team deemed as close contacts.
"Obviously, it throws a monkey wrench in our preparations because we have been preparing for Korea for the past week," Reyes admitted.
The team faces a change in their schedule just two days before the FIBA window is supposed to open. But Reyes insists that the Filipinos are ready to handle the situation.
"We would like to think that we built this team on versatility," said Reyes, who returned as head coach of Gilas Pilipinas just this month.
"Agility was one of the very first things we talked about in our first practice and how we really need to prepare for whatever comes," he added. "What we learned in the environment we are playing now is that we can never know what to expect."
Korea's decision to pull out of the window is among those unexpected developments, and Reyes said they cannot dwell on something that they cannot control.
Rather, the coach shifted the focus on some good news within the team: their RT-PCR tests all came back negative, clearing the way for their participation in the window.
"The best thing we can do is be ready and the thing we can focus on is our health. We are very happy that our RT-PCR results came out negative," he said.
"That's my message to the players: focus on what we can control. Right now, that's our preparation -- our health and to stay focused mentally and be emotionally ready for whatever the schedule is," he added.
Reyes has 15 players in the national team pool, with Roger Pogoy and Troy Rosario also part of the squad. Neither player was able to join the team's photo shoot ahead of the window on Monday, but will be in consideration for a spot in the final roster.
"Pogoy and Rosario are with us in the bubble," team manager Butch Antonio confirmed to ABS-CBN News.
The pair join their TNT teammates Poy Erram, Kelly Williams, Gab Banal, and Kib Montalbo, as well as NorthPort's Robert Bolick as the PBA players in the Gilas pool.
Reyes called on his TNT players to augment the national team for the upcoming window, given the lack of available players.
Also part of the national team pool are Japan-based professionals Thirdy Ravena (San-En NeoPhoenix) and Dwight Ramos (Toyama Grouses), as well as free agent guard Juan Gomez de Liano.
They are joined by Lebron Lopez, Ateneo de Manila University center Ange Kouame, and Gilas Pilipinas draftees Tzaddy Rangel, Jaydee Tungcab, and Will Navarro.
Gilas will also play New Zealand and India in the upcoming window.
Korea face forfeiture
For South Korea, their decision to withdraw from the window may be a costly one.
According to a report on Chosun, the Korea Basketball Association (KBA) has accepted that they will forfeit the four games that they were supposed to play in Quezon City.
A 0-4 record heading into the second qualifying window in June puts Korea at risk of failing to advance to the second round. Only the top three teams in each group will progress to the second round of the World Cup qualifiers.
South Korea, which is ranked 30th in the world and fifth in Asia, has competed in the last two editions of the FIBA Basketball World Cup in 2014 and 2019.
They placed 23rd in 2014 in Spain, and 26th in 2019 in China.