MANILA—The Philippine national basketball team conducted its "best practice so far" on Monday evening, with 13 players showing up to work at the Meralco Gym.
Gilas Pilipinas formally welcomed back NLEX's Kiefer Ravena, who returns to the national team program after a FIBA-mandated suspension that lasted 487 days.
The guard won't be allowed to play until Aug. 24, but is expected to be part of the team that will compete in Foshan in the FIBA World Cup.
Also joining the practice was NorthPort's Robert Bolick and Columbian Dyip's CJ Perez, a pair of rookies who had volunteered to be part of the national pool, according to Coach Yeng Guiao. Ginebra guard Stanley Pringle also showed up to Monday night's training.
"We had enough people to go 5-on-5," said Guiao, who had to settle for running sets in previous practices when less than 10 players would show up. "This is our first complete practice, actually."
"It's our best practice so far," he beamed.
Also present for Monday's practice were Paul Lee, June Mar Fajardo, Troy Rosario, Roger Pogoy, Mark Barroca, Poy Erram, Japeth Aguilar, and Marcio Lassiter. Raymond Almazan attended, but sat out the training to rest a sore calf.
Still, Guiao finally had enough players to do more elaborate drills, and for that, the coach was thankful.
"We're very appreciative of the guys who came in. Si CJ at saka si Robert, and of course, Kiefer. For the first time, he's able to practice and witness kayo for the first time, after more than 1 year and 6 months," he said.
"So siguro part of the excitement of why we had a really good practice today, they're just excited to play with each other," he added.
Guiao was effusive in his praise of Perez and Bolick, baring that the rookie guards had sent feelers to the national team even before they were invited to join. "Nagparamdam sila na gusto nilang mag-try ng luck nila to be in the pool," he said.
He was also grateful to Pringle, who had starred for Guiao when he coached the national team that competed in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta.
It is unlikely that Pringle will suit up for the Philippines in the World Cup, as he can only do so as a naturalized player—the spot that is already reserved for Andray Blatche.
Yet Pringle was very eager to help in practice, said Guiao.
"Again, he's one of the guys who volunteered himself, just in case we need an extra body. Galing 'yan sa Batangas, kalaban namin kahapon. He's just offering his services just so we have people who can play roles in practices, na mas maganda 'yung practice namin," the coach said.
"Willing siya, willing siya (maging practice player). Siya nagvo-volunteer. Noong araw pa nagvo-volunteer yan. He really wants to be part of the program but he can only play as a naturalized player," he added.
Guiao also took the opportunity to stress that "everything here is voluntary."
"Nobody is being forced to play for the national team. This is out of their own volition, out of their own desire to serve the country," he said.
"All of these guys have mother teams, and they love their mother teams as much as they love the other commitments that they have, but they're still here. Andito pa rin sila."
The team will continue to conduct regular practice in the coming weeks, with Blatche set to arrive by July 8. A line-up is expected to be revealed by July 15, according to Guiao.