Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas held its first practice with Isaiah Austin on Wednesday evening at the Meralco Gym in Ortigas.
And right away, head coach Chot Reyes liked what he saw from the 7-foot-1 American.
“I think he’s perfect. He can play with anyone, with any of our bigs,” Reyes said about Austin’s fit with the team. “He can play with Toto Jose, he can play with Norbert Torres, he can play with Carl Cruz.”
The daunting big man Austin showed exemplary skill in the post as well as in the perimeter during the team’s drills and scrimmages. His talent will be a much-needed asset for the China-bound team set to compete in the FIBA Asia Champions Cup.
“Obviously he’s reeling from jet lag. He doesn’t have his legs underneath him but I knew exactly what I was getting when he came here,” Reyes went on to say. Austin arrived in the Philippines on Tuesday and went to practice right away in his first 24 hours in the country.
“I like the way he shot the ball during the shooting drills. We all know he can really shoot the ball. The question now is how quickly he can assimilate with our system and with his teammates,” the coach continued.
Austin worked alongside amateur stars Jeron Teng and Kiefer Ravena as well as PBA stars Calvin Abueva and Terrence Romeo in his first practice. Because of the limited preparation time, he was already exposed to various drills from 3-on-0, 4-on-0, and all the way to 5-on-5 scrimmages.
Beyond the FIBA Asia Champions Cup, Chot Reyes is already looking ahead into the possibility of future tournaments with Austin.
“Even in the main Gilas team, he can play with June Mar (Fajardo). June Mar can play inside, he can play outside. With Japeth (Aguilar), Japeth can play outside, he’ll play inside. With (Raymond) Almazan, same thing,” Reyes discussed. Indeed, Austin’s versatility potentially gives the national team a lot of different threats, both in the post and in the perimeter. “The reason we got him it’s almost like having an Andray Blatche who is very versatile. Pwede sa loob, pwde sa labas,” Reyes said.
But before anything else, the FIBA Asia Champions Cup is the first order of business for the team. The aforementioned club tournament will help Chot Reyes and his coaching staff gauge whether or not Austin will indeed be the missing piece for the Gilas program.
“We still have to look at the tournament because it’s not only when we make our decision, it’s not only a skill or a fit issue, it’s also everything – attitude, how well he’s able to get along with his teammates. There’s a lot of things you can only find out when you’re out of the country playing. That’s why this tournament is very important to us,” Reyes stressed, citing that the naturalization process with congress for Austin has yet to start.
Still, Reyes feels very confident about the 23-year-old forward.
“He’s a very good kid. I think we know how much he likes to come and play here,” Reyes beamed. “When we contacted him at the start of the year, right away he sent his passport and birth certificate immediately. We really know how much he wants to play for Team Pilipinas.
Austin and the rest of Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas will continue to train in the upcoming week and gear up for the FIBA Asia Champions Cup which tips off on September 22 in Shenzhen, China.