Gilas Pilipinas leaves for New Zealand at noon today for an eight-day training stint designed to get the Filipinos closer to battle-ready form for the Fiba Asia Championship starting Aug. 1 at Mall of Asia Arena.
Coach Chot Reyes and the Nationals will board a Cathay Pacific flight bound for Auckland, where they will play six tough matches to make up for lost time after they were snubbed by the Taiwanese organizers of the Jones Cup.
“Our goal there is to get the games in,” Reyes told the Inquirer. “We need to play tough games, games we should have played in the Jones Cup (where the Filipinos are the defending champions).”
The invitation for Gilas-PH was withdrawn in the wake of the shooting incident involving Philippine coast guards that killed a Taiwanese fisherman a few months back.
Reyes, in an earlier interview, had said that not being invited to the Jones Cup could also serve the team well since the Filipinos won’t be scouted in real games by their Fiba Asia rivals, while the PH coaching staff can do its scouting of the other countries through video.
The New Zealand trip is the second international training stint for the Filipinos in two months following a 14-day camp in Lithuania, where they racked up a 5-2 record counting two wins against the Lithuanian 20-under team.
Reyes scheduled a six-game stint in New Zealand that would simulate the schedule of the Fiba Asia where the Filipinos will play two three-game stretches in seven days in the preliminary rounds.
The firebrand coach and his staff will also decide the final 12 players for the Fiba-Asia.
Teams have until July 12 to submit their respective lineups and Reyes will inform the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas of his final restore a day before.
Greg Slaughter, who couldn’t make the trip because of his studies at Ateneo, and Sonny Thoss, who recently lost his father and will join mother PBA team Alaska in a Los Angeles trip next week, are both part of the 15-man pool.
“After those games (in New Zealand), we hope to come home about 80 to 85 percent ready (for the Fiba Asia),” Reyes said. “We hope to be able to get to 100 percent form when the tournament starts.”
The Philippines is in Group A in the Fiba Asia together with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Chinese-Taipei, with the Filipinos opening up against the Saudis on Aug. 1 before playing the Jordanians and the Taiwanese two days later.