MANILA, Philippines – It may only be tune-up games and 7-foot-2 behemoth Hamed Haddadi might not be present, but Marc Pingris says Gilas Pilipinas will not relax and take Iran lightly.
"Sa amin naman gagawin pa rin namin 'yung trabaho namin. Either kumpleto sila or hindi, siyempre para sa amin gusto pa rin namin manalo," Pingris said. "Ayaw din namin mapahiya, ayaw din mapahiya ng kabila. Magandang laban pa rin 'yan kahit sabihin mong hindi kumpleto."
(We're still going to do our job. Either they're complete or not, we still want to win. We don't want to be humiliated, they don't want to be humiliated. It will still be a good match-up even if they're incomplete.)
The Philippine men's national basketball team is set for back-to-back days of tune-up games and situationals against the Iran national team on Tuesday, June 7, and Wednesday, June 8. Both squads are preparing for their respective 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifier stints in Manila and Turin, respectively.
Haddadi, Asia's infamous big man who was a bane for Gilas in match-ups of recent years, is still part of Iran's national team for the Qualifiers but is not in Manila owing to personal matters.
This Iran team is also far from the one that tormented Gilas 3 years ago for the gold medal at FIBA Asia as they are without forward Nikkhah Bahrami and guard Mehdi Kamrani, who will not play at all for the Qualifier.
For Pingris, that does not make Iran easy pickings, even if Gilas did defeat the 3-time FIBA Asia champions in the 2015 continental tourney in China. (READ: Haddadi-Fajardo duel not happening at Iran-Gilas tune-up games)
"Malalaki pa rin sila ah. Kahit wala 'yung Haddadi nila, magaling talaga sila," he explained. "Nakalaban na rin namin sila dati na wala si Haddadi, talagang 'yung takbo ng team nila ganoon pa rin. Kasi matagal na sila magkakasama e."
(They're still big. Even without Haddadi, they're still good. We played against them without Haddadi and their team still played the same. They've been together for so long.)
Pingris admitted he is disappointed he won't see a giant match-up between Haddadi and the Philippines' own two-time PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo. The two met in 2013 here for FIBA Asia but Fajardo was a very different player then, playing sparingly under then-coach Chot Reyes' dribble-drive system.
Pingris said Haddadi's absence is likewise not an excuse for Fajardo to take it easy, especially since Gilas leans on Fajardo and naturalized import Andray Blatche as the two biggest guys on the team now sans injured 7-footer Greg Slaughter.
"Ang sinabi ko kay June Mar dati, 'Tol, ikaw 'yung magiging next na Haddadi ng Pilipinas' (I told June Mar before, 'Bro, you're the next Haddadi of the Philippines')," Pingris said.
Tuesday's training session with Iran will consist mostly of simulating in-game situations, while a tune-up game open to the paying public will take place on Wednesday, 7 pm, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
If all else fails, Pingris knows he can turn to one other player.
"Habang nandiyan si Japeth Aguilar," Pingris teased Aguilar nearby, "walang panalo 'yang mga 'yan." (As long as we have Japeth Aguilar, they can't win.) – Rappler.com