Gilas Pilipinas will be fine despite short time together, says Tim Cone
Like his pal and national coach Chot Reyes, Tim Cone is well aware of the tall odds Gilas Pilipinas will be facing half a world away, what with the Nationals having the benefit of only a few practices.
Cone, though, insists that Gilas will be plunging into action against Jordan and Saudi Arabia in the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) World Cup Asian Qualifiers not as an ill-prepared lot, but as a team that was able to get the true meaning of its limited time together on the court.
“I think that the practices we had have been very efficient, they’re well thought out,” Cone told the Inquirer Sunday night, on the eve of the Nationals’ flight to Amman in Jordan where they open their bid of a sweep of the tournament’s fifth window.
“I think we were getting the maximum out of each practice. And I think we will be ready,” he went on.
Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas instituted a regular weekly practice every Monday evening that started last Sept. 19, a week after cage leaders were invited to appear before a Senate panel seeking to fortify Gilas and the Philippines’ preparations for the World Cup here next year.
Cone said the sessions at Meralco Gym in Pasig City “have been a struggle,” but just as Reyes pointed out over the weekend, what most Gilas fans are missing is the fact that most of the members of the talent pool are already familiar with the system.
“You know, the good news is Dwight [Ramos] knows the system. Kai [Sotto] knows the system. It won’t take a lot of time to get them locked in,” he said.
Sotto will have just three complete workouts with the team before the Filipinos play Jordan.
While optimistic, Cone said Gilas’ coaching staff remains guarded.
“I think we’ll be ready. Though I think Jordan will be hard to beat at home. You cannot underestimate the home-and-away [format]. Jordan’s gonna be tough at home just like Lebanon was [in Beirut last August]. And this time, we won’t have Jordan [Clarkson] or a Justin [Brownlee],” he said.
So the burden now rests on the shoulders of the locals in the pool, and more importantly, the program’s mainstays like the 7-foot-2 Sotto, naturalized center Ange Kouame and two-time World Cup veteran Japeth Aguilar.
The three are shaping up as logical picks for the final roster as they could form a fearsome front line to go up against the tall Jordanians. On top of that, it should also give Reyes a chance to test drive the three big men for the first time, ever, after missing out on the chance to do it with the injured June Mar Fajardo, who like Aguilar, played in two World Cups.
Reyes has since said he will stick to naming his final roster on the eve of each contest as Gilas intends to keep its cards close to its chest.
The Nationals trained one last time in Manila on Monday morning before flying to the Jordanian capital at 11 p.m. There, barring any changes, Gilas will meet Sotto and will have at least three chances to train as a complete unit.
Toting a level 3-3 record, the Philippines plays Jordan on Nov. 10 (midnight Nov. 11 in Manila), followed by a rematch with Saudi Arabia in Jeddah three days later.