A new Gilas journey has begun, and a couple of necessary questions should be asked: Can naturalized super import Andray Blatche continue to carry the scoring load? Will three-time PBA Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo finally unleash The Kraken on the international stage? How many foreign ankles will Terrence Romeo break this time? Is Gilas 5.0 the best lineup yet?
These are the loaded questions asked by every Gilas fan who have been with the national team through its ups and downs—those who winced at the missed free throws in 2002, and pumped fists to the booming triples in 2013; those who rejoiced in the nail-biter in China and suffered in the heartbreaker in Spain. The answers—and the inevitable drama—will soon unravel as the Philippine team tests its engine against its Southeast Asian neighbors at the 2017 SEABA Championship starting May 12.
Terrence Romeo will again wear the Gilas colors at the 2017 SEABA Championship. Photo credit: FIBA.com]
Gilas has become synonymous with drama, controversy following the team wherever city it plays in. The new roster of players set to compete in SEABA isn’t immune to this familiar spectacle. Merely days away from the team’s scheduled debut against Myanmar, comebacking coach Chot Reyes revealed unfavorable feelings towards Blatche, who postponed his flight to the Philippines to attend to father duties. Reyes said he was “very upset” with the delay, and threatened to replace the 6-foot-10 forward/center.
That same day, Blatche tweeted a cryptic “SMH,” which may or may not have been a direct response to Reyes’ statements. The former NBA veteran arrived in Manila, finally, on Sunday, and immediately practiced with his teammates, jetlagged and all. Sleepy and tired, Blatche managed to survive the practice unscathed, with his loyalty and confidence intact.
“We got a couple more days to go before the tournament starts. We’ll come out with a win, nothing less,” he said after his first practice, five days before the tournament.
Naturalized forward-center Andray Blatche, holding a Molten Official Basketball, is back to represent the Philippines. Get the FIBA-approved molten official basketball gf7 on tobys.com.
Photo credit: pba-online.net]
Blatche’s coolness is not unfounded: the numbers can back him up. The Philippines is undeniably the best team in the entry-level event, which the country needs to win to qualify for the FIBA Asia tournament in Lebanon. Looking at the FIBA rankings, the only country closest to the Philippines’ 27th spot is Indonesia, ranked 72nd in the world.
In last year’s SEABA tournament, the Philippines, bannered by Troy Rosario, breezed through undefeated. In this year’s version of the team, Rosario will play—if he gets to play at all—behind the likes of Japeth Aguilar and Calvin Abueva.
A young albeit talented Gilas cadets squad also dominated SEABA 2015, winning games by a 30-point margin. This year, the Philippines is going all-pro, sending a team that has all the pieces to build a 50-point margin.
"This team is built on its flexibility and versatility," Reyes was quoted as saying. "We know that in the international game, even the bigs can hit threes, so you have to be able to play defense and you have to be able to switch the ball screens and that’s the kind of lineup that we have.”
Manning the backcourt is Jayson Castro, Jio Jalalon, and Romeo. Blatche, Fajardo, Rosario, Abueva, Aguilar, and Raymond Almazan are expected to cause trouble inside while Matthew Wright, RR Pogoy, and newly-crowned PBA 3-point champion Allein Maliksi are the designated snipers from the outside.
"I think it's very balanced, it's very versatile. It has size, and it’s a great combinations of rookies and veterans, rookies to the Gilas system, to the PBA," Reyes said.
Bearing the scars from past disappointments, a talented and seasoned Gilas 5.0 is poised to regain its glory via a sweep of the six-game SEABA tournament. Every win is a triumph, a loss will be called an upset. But the real test of the team, as with previous missions, is how it plays cohesively and consistently as one unit, all the way to the bigger challenge: the FIBA Asia Cup in August.
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