MANILA, Philippines -- Gilas Pilipinas showed great potential despite suffering a big 88-63 defeat to New Zealand in the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers.
This was the sentiment of head coach Chot Reyes, who commended the effort displayed by his players after a difficult build-up to the FIBA window .
"I was very proud of the effort of our guys. We played a tough team, and we didn't back down," said Reyes, who had less than a month to prepare the national team after taking over as head coach in early February.
With several players from the Gilas pool unavailable, Reyes augmented the team with members of his own TNT Tropang GIGA squad.
"We kept ourselves in the ball game until I think, late in the third quarter," added the coach. "I couldn't ask for anything more from our players. I thought they came in and they executed."
Gilas trailed by just 10 points, 40-30, at the break before New Zealand broke the game open midway through the third frame. The Filipinos struggled to protect the paint against the bigger Kiwis, and also had little success on the other end of the floor.
It didn't help that Gilas missed 13 of the 23 free throws that they attempted.
"I thought we had our chances, and you know, we didn't lose the game because of the referees. We didn't lose the game because of the officiating," said Reyes afterward. "We lost the game because New Zealand really defended us and played us very physical. It wasn't about the officiating."
"I think we will get better as time goes by," the coach also asserted. "There's certainly a lot of bright spots. There's a lot of things to build on, and we just have to be able to put in the work."
Reyes in particular praised the pair of Dwight Ramos and Thirdy Ravena, who emerged as the Philippines' most consistent players in the February window. Ravena led the team in scoring at 19 points per game, with Ramos adding 17.5 points and 7 rebounds in each contest.
But it was the leadership shown by the two Japan-based professionals that Reyes was most pleased about.
"Their work ethic, the energy they bring to practices, everything that's important for leaders," said Reyes.
Reyes said critics must also be mindful of the circumstances surrounding the team when analyzing their performances in the window -- a hard-earned win against India before succumbing to higher-ranked New Zealand.
The coach pointed out that player availability was an issue, with members of the Gilas pool including Kai Sotto, Justine Baltazar, and Carl Tamayo all unable to join. Several players who did see action were not at their best due to lack of playing time.
"We have to cut those guys a lot of slack," said Reyes of players such as Ange Kouame, Will Navarro, and Jaydee Tungcab -- all of whom had not played since Gilas competed in the King's Cup in Jordan in August 2021.
"If you understand basketball, you know how difficult that is. Maski araw-araw kang mag-practice, if you haven't been playing competitive games, then you're not going to be in game shape, you won't have the edge, you won't have the timing," Reyes explained.
"They were put in a very difficult position. That's why I said, I'm very proud of the fact that despite all of that, they came out and they played hard," the coach added during an appearance on "Sports Desk" on CNN Philippines on Monday. "They gave it their best."