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National team unity intact: SMC stars show up for Gilas Pilipinas training

June Mar Fajardo. Photo from Fiba.com

A major fissure that split the PBA board into two groups did not rip the unity of the national program as the San Miguel group made good on its vow to continue supporting Gilas Pilipinas, sending its key players to the first practice in preparation for the Fiba World Cup.

Reigning four-time MVP June Mar Fajardo of San Miguel Beer and athletic Barangay Ginebra big Japeth Aguilar showed up for training at Meralco gym Friday night with the other members of Gilas Pilipinas, the national squad bankrolled principally by tycoon Manny V. Pangilinan.

Pangilinan owns three PBA teams and those squads—TNT KaTropa, Meralco and NLEX—are part of a seven-team bloc that is seeking the ouster of commissioner Chito Narvasa.

The San Miguel squads—San Miguel Beer, Barangay Ginebra and Star—lead a five-team faction that back Narvasa and there were initial fears that the split would be detrimental to the national program, which is going to play crucial home-and-away matches to try qualify for the Fiba World Cup.

But the San Miguel group had moved to build a truce within the board and also vowed to continue supporting the national team.

Even Star’s Jio Jalalon, who is sidelined with a lateral collateral ligament damage, showed up Friday night.

Among those who did not show up were Terrence Romeo and Kiefer Ravena, who are still both out of town, and naturalized center Andray Blatche who promised to arrive on Nov. 12.

Fajardo, Aguilar, Romeo, Ravena, Blatche, and TNT KaTropa guards Jason Castro and RR Pogoy, who were also present Friday night, to lead the 23-man pool for Gilas Pilipinas.

The rest of the pool includes: mainstays Calvin Abueva and Gabe Norwood, returnees Raymond Almazan, Allein Maliksi, Troy Rosario, Kevin Alas, Baser Amer, and LA Revilla, cadets Matthew Wright, Jalalon, Mac Belo, Carl Bryan Cruz, Kevin Ferrer, Mike Tolomia, Von Pessumal, and Russel Escoto.

Team Philippines will play Japan in Tokyo on Nov. 24 and the Filipinos, with Blatche on board, should be the favored side.

Gilas will then travel a few days after to Chinese Taipei to play the Taiwanese and Quincy Davis. The Filipinos are also slated to clash with world power Australia in the home-and-away series of games.

This will mark Blatche’s return to active Philippine duty after sitting out the Fiba Asia Cup in Lebanon a couple of months back for security reasons.

That paved the way for Christian Standhardinger to play a third international tournament for Gilas after seeing action in the Jones Cup, where the Filipinos finished fourth, and in the Southeast Asian Games which Team Philippines easily won.

Standhardinger was picked first overall in the last Draft but is not included in the pool with Blatche filling in the naturalized player’s slot.

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