BEAU Belga, the rough yet hard-working Rain or Shine big man, was the last man cut from the Gilas-Pilipinas pool, which coach Chot Reyes trimmed down to its fighting, final 12 yesterday while in their last phase of preparations in New Zealand.
“Beau Belga: the ultimate professional. Tough to tell him. But in the end he understood what’s best for the team. Dakila ka @bigboybelga30,” Reyes said in his Twitter account, @coachot, moments after also announcing that he had emailed the final lineup to the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas.
Belga was actually the last addition to the pool. Reyes took him in after injuries hit the squad, particularly big men Sonny Thoss of Alaska and Kelly Williams of Talk ‘N Text.
Belga would have brought toughness and the enforcer’s attitude to the squad, which will now count on 6-foot-10 Marcus Douthit, Marc Pingris, Japeth Aguilar, Ranidel De Ocampo and June Mar Fajardo for height and heft.
Belga, who has evolved into one of the PBA’s most intimidating slotmen despite being undersized, replied: @coachot Salamat (Thank you) coach. Thank you din sa pagtitiwala (for the trust),” through his Twitter account.
“Team ko na rin ang #GilasPilipinas. Tulad nga ng sinabi ko, bawal ang pusong mamon,” Belga said in reply to some of his more than 12,000 followers.
Thoss and Ateneo’s 7-foot Greg Slaughter were the other big-man candidates.
Though Reyes didn’t say it, the failure of both to join the squad in their training stints in Lithuania last month and in New Zealand obviously weighed heavily on his decision.
Thoss, who won the Finals MVP award in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup, begged off from joining the team in Lithuania to seek treatment for a hurting back in China. He recently lost his father and is set to join Alaska in a United States trip on Monday.
Slaughter, on the other hand, couldn’t wriggle out of his academic commitments at Ateneo.
Gary David, last year’s PBA scoring champion, Larry Fonacier, Jeff Chan, Gabe Norwood, Jimmy Alapag, Jason Castro and former Jones Cup MVP LA Tenorio complete the Gilas lineup.
The Philippines, which is in Group A, opens its Fiba Asia Championship campaign against Saudi Arabia on Aug. 1 at Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay before clashing with Jordan and Saudi Arabia in the next two days, in that order.
The Filipinos are seeking to top their two preliminary round groupings in order to avoid clashing with powerhouses Iran, China and South Korea in the quarterfinals.
Only the top three teams in the 16-nation tournament, which the country is hosting for the first time in 40 years, will earn tickets to the World Championship slated next year in Madrid.