The present and future of Gilas Pilipinas program converged when head coach Chot Reyes called for the team’s first practice, Monday night at the Meralco Gym. For the present, it was to reconvene as a team in preparation for the second window of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers. For the future, it was an introduction to the program, to their mentors, and to their future teammates in preparation for their possible stint in the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
For the old timers in Jayson Castro, Gabe Norwood, Japeth Aguilar, and even assistant coach Jimmy Alapag, it was a chance to see where the program they have helped grow through the years is going.
“It’s great to have this early of a start in preparation for 2023. Just to get these guys together and to already build on that chemistry and camaraderie that was so important for us back in 2013-2014,” said Alapag after the pool finished its first practice.
The group ran various sets of the dribble-drive system, first as separated between the youngsters and the veterans and then as one unit. They finished practice by having one of their traditional halfcourt shot contests where Kevin Alas, RR Pogoy, and Jayson Castro emerged victorious.
The vibe was positive inside the gym as the younger players brought in a lot of energy while the veterans were pushed to keep the pace.
“Para akong bumata ulit,” joked Castro after practice. “Masaya yung practice kasi makikita mo sa mukha nila na excited sila lahat and at the same time makikita mo rin na gusto nilang matuto kasi nagtatanong sila. Masaya rin for me as a veteran kasi mabibigyan mo sila ng advice tungkol sa international game na magagamit nila in case makasali sila.”
When 2023 rolls along, it would be the 10th anniversary of that fateful night inside the Mall of Asia Arena where Gilas broke the Korean curse and qualified for the 2014 FIBA World Cup after a 40-year absence from the event. The players who won that game know that it surely played a part in the development of the Gilas program into what it is today. They also know that many of the ones who trained with them today were teenagers back then.
“Sana marami sa kanila yung na-inspire nung nagawa namin nung 2013 kasi yun naman talaga yung essence ng sports e, to inspire people so sana may natulong yung moment namin na yun kasi special yun at special rin yung samahan namin,” said Aguilar.
Unlike many editions of Gilas who had to rush their training because of time constraints, the squad that will be competing in 2023 will have five years to prepare without having to worry about qualifying.
“You can never start too early. The dribble-drive system allows us, Filipino players, to take advantage of our strengths: our speed, quickness, ability to shoot from the perimeter, and our creativity. Filipino players are very creative in how we handle the ball and how we can get to the rim and finish,” explained Alapag.
“Ang advantage nila samin is ang aga nila nag-umpisa,” added Castro. “Ngayon pa lang alam na nilang kasama na sila sa pool. Kami, konting time lang lagi kaya sana kahit matagal pa yung 2023, i-take advatage nila yung nabibigay sa kanila ngayon. Kilalanin na nila yung teammates nila at aralin yung sistema kasi yun talaga yung panlaban natin sa international.”
While Aguilar, who will be 36 years old by the time 2023 comes isn’t closing the door on being part of the team, Castro and Norwood both know that 2019 would be their last chance to play in a FIBA World Cup.
“Siguro (dati) na-inspire rin namin sila tapos ngayon nakaka-training namin sila and in the future kami naman yung manonood sa kanila pag sila na yung national team,” Castro said, reflecting about his first practice with the young pool.
“I’ll be cheering from the stands, cheering my head off,” Norwood said. “I’m really excited for the group, who knows who’s gonna be in, playing here in Manila, so it should be an exciting time.”