Gilas Diaries: Going through the motions
MANILA, Philippines -- There was a sense of mundanity in the third Gilas Pilipinas practice three nights ago at the Ultra/Philsports Arena in Pasig City.
For one, only eleven players were dressed for the session. Jeff Chan, still injured, remained an observer. Alaska’s Sonny Thoss was sitting beside Chan, though Sonny’s status as observer wasn’t really because of any injury (more on this later). TNT’s Ryan Reyes, Jared Dillinger, and Kelly Williams were sitting this one out, too, though they were also at courtside observing things. Once again, Greg Slaughter was not present, though this could be because he was getting ready for what would be NLEX’s fourth straight D-League title romp the following day.
The onlookers and scribes watching the drills were all quite mum. No big reactions, really. There were the occasional oohs and aahs when Japeth Aguilar or Marcus Douthit slammed one home with authority, but apart from those, there was hardly any chatter or buzz.
The mood was a little somber, which was in stark contrast to the atmosphere two weeks ago, during Gilas’s first practice in this very same facility. Back then, the excitement was evident. Everyone was all-smiles as the players trooped together and energetically went about their drills.
Now, the players, these cagers tagged with representing the country in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships in August, seemed to just go through the motions, weary from the toils of the current Commissioner’s Cup.
This was what permeated throughout most of the practice session. Apart from the presentation of hand imprints, which served to commemorate Gilas’s 2012 Jones Cup conquest, hardly anything novel happened.
The whole practice, in fact, ended way before the 10:00pm closing time. It was 9:15pm when the players and coaches huddled for their customary battle cry of “PUSO!” Shortly after, recovery meals were handed out to the participants, and a few of the players said their goodbyes.
But what could anybody really expect? This is the reality coach Chot Reyes has been tasked to deal with. This is the sour truth of a national team practicing in the middle of the pro season.
For one, players are limited to being observers because of pro team interests (read: Thoss). There is, however, no malice here, since pro teams are expected to protect and uphold their respective interests, investments, and objectives. It’s just… a difficult reality. Even if other teams don’t “protect” or “limit” their players’ involvements, sometimes, like in this evening, the players are forced to inhibit themselves from participating.
Just a night prior, the Tropang Texters battled the San Mig Coffee Mixers in a hotly-contested game. SMC defeated the heavily-favored Texters, with returning import Denzel Bowles putting up monster stats. I can only assume that game was the reason some of the TNT players had to “skip” the drills. Perhaps they were exhausted. Perhaps they were nursing minor injuries. Ryan Reyes, Dillinger, and Williams all played at least 20 minutes in that game, often having to deal with the physicality that goes with the territory when rival teams collide in the PBA.
The players who actually dressed and practiced were also not exempted from this reality. Though they were participating in the drills, it was clear that the 11 “active” guys weren’t really pushing the envelope. They know that, at least for now, familiarizing themselves with coach Chot’s system would be the main task. No hard bumps. No playoff fouls.
Going through the motions.
Late in the session, coach Chot had the guys practice the dribble-drive in a full-court setting (they have been doing only half-court sets for the first two practices). It was a thing of beauty to see five guys run such a free-flowing offense. Passes were crisp. Cuts were brisk. Shots were on-target. All with a 15-second shot clock.
This was the three-week old Gilas Pilipinas. They were learning despite the harsh realities around them.
And learning fast.
The full-court drill lasted for barely 10 minutes, though. Coach Chot and his staff knew better than to push these guys too much. They still had commitments to their mother teams. A Commissioner’s Cup was still up for grabs. There were pro expectations to be met. FIBA Asia was still about five months away.
There was still time.
But, then again, time might already be running out.
I’m sure coach Chot is aware of how difficult it is to sharpen a group of pro players well enough so they will be 110% ready for the FIBA Asia wars – more so with only 2 months of REAL and INTENSE practice.
It is far from the ideal situation.
But it’s reality, this phase of going through the motions.
And it will have to do for now.
In about two months, the Gilas boys will square off against their peers in the 2013 PBA All-Star Weekend in Digos City, Davao del Sur. By then, the team should be more cohesive, more ready.
Further down the road, coach Chot expects the team to have its first, full-attendance, full-intensity practice on May 25, which is well after the end of the Commish Cup. Shortly after, the team is set to fly to Lithuania for some tune-up games, then back here for an international invitational tourney, and then off to Taipei to defend its Jones Cup crown.
Less than a month later, the real tournament starts.
It’ll be a long and tough grind ahead, and I’m certain coach Chot would relish having more frequent and more intense practice sessions with his squad.
But, again, these moments of “going through the motions” will suffice. These aren’t ideal times, but these are the cards the team was dealt.
It will all have to do.
In the final huddle, right before they shout “PUSO,” Gary David goes to the center and cracks everyone up with another one of his jokes. It’s a welcome respite from the pressure everyone has to deal with.
Shortly after, I begin to leave the Ultra. I step out of the media/players’ doorway and breathe the evening air. The night is quiet. The stars are bright, hardly hidden by a few gray clouds.
I see June Mar Fajardo walk outside and give his recovery meal to his driver, who goes off to get the car. June Mar sits beside the lady guard of the Ultra. It’s apparent that the guard is on graveyard duty. She and June Mar don’t share any words, but they share in the moment. Judging from her countenance, it’s apparent this is not the ideal situation for her, too. Perhaps somewhere she has a family waiting for her. Maybe a child asking for his/her mother? But, just like June Mar, coach Chot, and the rest of Gilas, this is the sour reality for the guard.
For now, this mundanity, this quiet, this “going through the motions,” will have to do.
There is, after all, a calm before every storm.
#parasabayan - Rappler.com
Enzo Flojo is one of the closest followers of the Philippine National Basketball Team. He is a self-proclaimed Asian Basketball hoop nut, and he doubts if anyone knows as much as he does about the best players in this corner of the world. He maintains a nationally-recognized basketball blog (HoopNut.com), and he hopes you can pester him on Twitter -- @hoopnut.