By Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North America Bureau
July 29, 2014
MIAMI – The Philippine National Basketball Team, known as “Gilas Pilipinas”, is in Miami, Florida honing their skills for the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Madrid, Spain in August and then Asian Games in Incheon, Korea in September.
“So far here, Miami training has been great, it’s been tough,” said Jimmy Alapag, point guard for the team. “Here we are day three preparing for our second workout – team’s working very hard.
The Philippines has only played four times at the FIBA World Cup and has won its first and only bronze medal in 1954.
“After 40 years nakabalik po tayo, talagang pinagmamaliki po natin, at proud na proud po kami,” said forward Ranidel De Ocampo, “At ang promise po naming ibibigay po naming talaga lahat ng makakaya naming para ipaglaban ating bandila.”
Team Gilas made plans to hold their week long intensive training in the “Magic City” so that former Washington Wizard Andray Blatche could join the team.
Blatche last played in the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets before joining Gilas.
The 6-foot-11-inch center, who was born and raised in Syracuse, New York, is a naturalized Filipino thanks to a law signed by President Aquino last month.
“I’m Filipino – my father’s Filipino, so he made it easy for me to go out to the Philippines to get sworn in,” said the center. “Thanks for having me and welcoming me into your country, and I’m very thankful.”
Gilas hoopsters are keeping their fingers crossed to meet Miami Heat’s Filipino-American coach Erik Spoelstra so they can pick his brain.
“Kung paano niya buuin kasi yung Miami Heat dati, so gusto naming malaman kung ano yung sikreto nila and then paano sila mag-praktis, paano yung team, sana makausap ko in person,” said power forward Marc Pingris.
The chances of meeting the first Asian-American head coach to win the NBA Championships twice are getting better.
The Miami Heat posted a welcome tweet to Team Gilas: “Welcome to Miami, @coachot and @smartgilasph! We hope your training camp for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup is going well!”
Gilas Coach Chot Reyes tweeted back and said that they are hoping the Miami Heat could stop by their training camp.
The Philippine team is not complete without pure shooter Larry Fonacier who couldn’t make it this time due to injuries.
But for Team Gilas, with or without Fonacier, the games must go on.
“He felt like he wasn’t gonna be fair for all the other Gilas players if he would took a spot, because he knew he wouldn’t be able to give his all,” said player Jared Dillinger.
“Nanghihinayang kami, but ganun talaga ang buhay sinabi ng doctor na kailangan niyang ipahinga,” said Pingris, “’Tol para sa yo yong laru naming at para sa mga kababayan nating Pilipino, thank you.”
The week long training may not be enough, but Gilas Pilipinas hoopsters say they are ready to take on the FIBA World Cup and are scheduled to fly to Madrid, Spain on Aug. 4.
“We really need your support as we go forward in our journey from Filipinos here, abroad, and all over the world,” said player Gabe Norwood. “We appreciate you.”