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MANILA, Philippines — The new Gilas Pilipinas pool took its first step down a long and winding road to the 2016 Rio Olympics one late Monday night, November 9, at the Meralco Gym.
Towering big men June Mar Fajardo and Greg Slaughter led 14 of head coach Tab Baldwin’s 17-man pool who showed up for the first of 28 Monday practices throughout the PBA season as the national team gears up for the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) by early July. (READ: Comebacking gunner Jeff Chan eager to shoot for Gilas again)
Calvin Abueva and Sonny Thoss showed up briefly but sat out practice as they just came off a flight from Dubai where the Alaska Aces played two games in 24 hours on Friday, November 6, and Saturday, November 7.
JC Intal also dropped by but left early while Ranidel De Ocampo was absent as he recovers from a back injury.
Gilas 3.0 team captain Dondon Hontiveros and reserve Gary David were present in street clothes and observed from the sidelines. Baldwin previously expressed he wanted to add to the current PBA pool those who played in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship in China, where Gilas settled for silver.
Light drills and workouts as well as discussions of Baldwin’s system characterized the first training session. Though still too early to tell, the tandem of two-time PBA MVP Fajardo and an improving Slaughter on the floor looks promising.
Fajardo, LA Tenorio, Paul Lee, and Marcio Lassiter were all in attendance after missing Gilas 3.0 due to injury, fatigue, and personal reasons.
After failing to win the FIBA Asia gold and the accompanying outright Olympics berth, the national team is eyeing to be one of 3 wildcard winners from the OQT, which also includes powerhouse teams such as Greece, France, Serbia, Canada, and New Zealand. (READ: Sangalang shocked but excited to reunite with Abueva at Gilas Pilipinas)
A total of 18 teams will compete and will be divided into 3 groups. The winner of each group will gain an Olympics slot.
Check out photos from Gilas Pilipinas’ first practice below.