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Gilas looking to fast track SEA Games chemistry with recent arrivals of Ravena brothers, Wright │ GMA News Online


The Philippine national men’s basketball team set to see action in the Southeast Asian Games hasn’t had much practice time with their full squad with some key pieces missing until recently.

The arrival of Matthew Wright on Saturday and brothers Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena from Japan on Tuesday will change that, though there is still much work to be done in building team chemistry before the regional meet.

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Last Saturday, Gilas Pilipinas played a tuneup game against the PBA’s NLEX Road Warriors, with several pros seeing action for the national team. Among them were six-time PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo and his San Miguel teammate Mo Tautuaa, TNT’s Troy Rosario and RR Pogoy, Isaac Go of Terrafirma, and NLEX’s own Kevin Alas.

Some holdovers from previous iterations of the Gilas teams were also there, including Go, Will Navarro, Jaydee Tungcab, and LeBron Lopez. Another youngster, 16-year-old Fil-American Caelum Harris also participated in the contest despite being part of the Under-17 national team rather than the SEA Games.

Aside from the absent Ravenas – who only recently wrapped up their respective teams’ campaigns in the Japan B.League – and Wright, Kib Montalbo also sat out the tuneup game.

For Gilas head coach Chot Reyes, he can’t help but admire the dedication of the players who have been constantly attending workouts.

“I like the focus and the effort. Kasi hindi biro yung ginagawa nila. They’re really basically nine guys, 10 guys only. You can imagine yung pagod nila sa practice while waiting for the other three guys to join the team. These guys practiced twice a day… They’re practicing with their PBA teams then practice sa Gilas. But (this week), they’re focusing on Gilas before we leave,” Reyes said, making a special mention of Fajardo, Tautuaa, and Go, as well as the players from TNT, which he also coaches.

“It’s the same thing with Caelum. He’s practicing with Under-17, then he’s also practicing here. Yung dedication nila is very admirable.”

With limited time before the start of the basketball competitions in Hanoi, they’re hoping they have enough time to prepare with the squad now complete.

Yeng Guiao, who coached Gilas’ tuneup opponent NLEX and is himself a former national team coach, understands the struggle to put together a team at the last minute, but is glad to see the support the team is receiving.

“Alam mo nadaan rin ako diyan. Time is really a problem, practice time, playing together is a problem. The good thing about sa team natin ngayon is the PBA is cooperating, giving a lot of support. The teams are lending players. Yung iba diyan kagagaling lang ng conference, but they’re still here, making the sacrifice,” Guiao shared.

Reyes is also wary of the level of competition they’re expecting from their regional rivals, whom he says has improved “by leaps and bounds” in the years since they started their own local professional leagues in their countries.

Among the SEA Games teams, it’s Indonesia that Reyes has an eye on.

Indonesia finished fourth in the previous edition of the SEA Games under former Gilas coach Rajko Toroman, but has since won two victories in the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers. Toroman was later appointed director of basketball operations for their national team. Taking his place on the bench is Serbian Milos Pejic, who coached Satria Muda Pertamina to the Indonesian Basketball League title.

But beyond the coaching, Reyes is most concerned about naturalized player Marques Bolden, who replaced former PBA import Lester Prosper in the role.

“We’re worried. Indonesia, with Marques Bolden, a former NBA player, a seven-footer, he’s going to give us a lot of problems. We hope we can be ready in time for that,” the coach added.

The 6-foot-10 Bolden is an athletic, 24-year-old big man, with a brief stint playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2020-20221 season and has since turned in impressive performances in the NBA G-League.

—JMB, GMA News

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