Gilas begins new, tougher journey to the FIBA World Cup

MANILA, Philippines – "Last year Asia, this year the world, gentlemen." 

That's how Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes wrapped up day one of Gilas' journey to the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain. 

The national men's basketball squad convened for their first practice together on Monday, March 3 at the PhilSports Arena (ULTRA) in Pasig, in preparation for the World Cup in August.

It was the first team gathering since Gilas lost to Iran in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships, where they qualified for the World Cup by finishing in second place.

"I must admit I missed them," Reyes remarked." #GilasPilipinas ' first practice about to start." #rstream" — Jane Bracher (@janebracher)" March 3, 2014" charset="utf-8">

Of the 17-man pool, 16 were present at ULTRA and only 8 players suited up. Understandably, first practice was light and was more of an orientation for the returning members as well as for the new additions to the pool.

Guard Jeff Chan missed practice as he was still in Bacolod with his family, while Japeth Aguilar, Greg Slaughter, June Mar Fajardo, Marc Pingris, Ranidel de Ocampo, Jared Dillinger and Marcio Lassiter were all in street clothes, as they nursed various injuries." width="612" height="610" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" allowtransparency="true">

According to Reyes, he hopes to have all of his players suited up and ready to go by next week's practice.

Reyes expanded the 12-man team that won the silver in last year's FIBA Asia Championships and named Dillinger (Meralco Bolts), Lassiter (San Miguel Beermen), Paul Lee (Rain or Shine Elasto Painters) and Slaughter (Barangay Ginebra San Miguel) to the pool. He also tapped the services of Beau Belga (Rain or Shine Elasto Painters) once again.

Drills and laughter

Gilas started their night with a viewing of the third episode of Sports5 documentary Kuwentong Gilas, with this week's episode centered on Marc Pingris.

Watching and reminding themselves of their own inspiring journeys looks like the perfect primer to a two-hour grind every Monday.

"That's going to be a regular part of our routine," Reyes said. "It's also part of building our bond and reconnecting with each other." 

After the viewing players proceeded to learning and executing some initial drills aimed at minimizing turnovers through proper spacing of the floor and constant movement." width="612" height="610" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" allowtransparency="true">

The drills were marred with several errors but also with plenty of laughter and good teasing despite the impending challenges they must soon face. 

Gilas will soon have to find ways to overcome their tough opponents in Group B, with the goal of notching a couple of wins to make it to the next round. The Philippines landed in Group B during the FIBA World Cup Draw together with Senegal, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Greece, and Croatia. 

The relaxed mood emanating from the players rippled around ULTRA, which was empty save for some seats occupied by a good number of spectators and media.

Gary David incited fits of laughter once again with a post-practice joke before Reyes adjourned the first of many more huddles to come with their emphatic battlecry: "Laban Pilipinas! Puso!"

Gilas will be practicing every Monday night and at the same time juggling responsibilities with their mother ballclubs in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).  

The PBA has shortened its season, with the third and final conference finishing July 15 at the earliest or July 22 at the latest, to give Gilas extended time for preparations. –