A lot of ground to cover
Nothing—not even the absence of some key stars who could easily turn the national team’s first assignments this year into horrible mismatches—could dampen Mark Dickel’s spirits as he finally held practice with Gilas Pilipinas for the first time on Wednesday at Ateneo’s Moro Lorenzo Sports Center in Quezon City.
“It’s exciting,” said Dickel, the TNT consultant in the PBA who will handle the national team reins for this month’s qualifying windows for the Asia Cup.
And that’s after the pool from which he will cull the latest version of the national squad was hit by key withdrawals.Gilas Pilipinas will be without Barangay Ginebra’s Japeth Aguilar, who will make a rare absence from national team duties. Aguilar, who has been with Gilas since its inception as the national program for basketball, will be “going on a delayed honeymoon,” according to national program director Tab Baldwin.
Aguilar’s absence comes at a time when the national team is in dire need of quality big men. June Mar Fajardo was left off the pool to give the reigning five-time MVP needed rest. It turns out, he wouldn’t have been available after all after suffering a gruesome injury in practice that will sideline him for the rest of the coming PBA season.
Christian Standhardinger, meanwhile, has already begged off from the first window because he is rehabilitating an injured knee.
“I have to build up the muscles in my knee to compensate, and then I can go hard. But two weeks is not enough for me to build up those muscles and then be ready and go all out and just learn the system. It’s just not possible. It’s a risk to get injured, and that risk is very high,” the NorthPort forward said.“That’s very real, and we understand that,” Baldwin said. “We don’t want to put any player in jeopardy and because he’s rehabbing an injury and he’s on a specific timetable.”
Baldwin said TNT swingman Ray Parks Jr. is likely to miss the first window because he has to resolve his “basketball issues” with the KaTropa while Matthew Wright, the sweet-shooting Phoenix playmaker, is also doubtful because of “a conflict in schedule.”
“But we got a lot of good players that are capable of doing the job,” Dickel said.
Plus, the initial window features matches against Thailand and Indonesia, two teams Gilas Pilipinas crushed in last year’s Southeast Asian Games on the way to the gold medal.
Still, Dickel isn’t taking chances.
“We got a lot of work to do in two weeks, to cover a lot of ground, and to get us ready in playing a good game,” he said.
“Hopefully day by day, it becomes clear who’s going to play, how much they’re gonna play, the combinations,” he added. “And [then] we’d just keep getting better and better.”