• Gilas to rely on speed, fighting heart

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    Jude P. Roque

    An undersized Gilas Pilipinas National Men’s Team will take on the much taller powerhouses in Asia during the coming FIBA Asia Cup in Beirut, Lebanon. Top center June Mar Fajardo won’t be able to see action in the tournament due to a strained right calf. But National coach Chot Reyes chose to stick with the original roster that includes the 6’10” three-time Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) MVP. There might be a slim chance that Fajardo could recover and perhaps play some games in the tourney. But Reyes is prepared to go to battle without Fajardo.

    It’s not the first time the Reyes-led Gilas faced adversity. Injuries to key players have always been a tough challenge for the squad. Now, without Fajardo and naturalized power forward Andray Blatche, the Nationals will have to rely more on their quickness, speed and their biggest weapon of all —their “Puso” or fighting heart —which is a Chot Reyes trait.

    It will definitely be a huge task playing against the giants of China, Iran and the rest of Asia. But speed and quick­ness have always been to the Filipinos’ advantage. Christian Stand­hardinger, Japeth Aguilar and Ray­mond Almazan make up a lean but agile frontline for Gilas. All three are equipped with quickness, hustle and a respectable outside game. Stand­hardinger can hit the three-ball while Aguilar and Almazan are dangerous from the perimeter. More importantly, all three can run in transition and are capable of hauling down rebounds due to their gifted athleticism. Calvin Abueva and Carl Bryan Cruz can provide extra muscle and energy. Still, going up against the seven-footers from other Asian countries should pose some heavy problems.

    Given the situation, I can see Reyes putting on the afterburner in Gilas’ game. This means being quicker than quick. We know Gilas loves the up-tempo game. But given the present situation, they need an up-tempo game on steroids. We can expect tremendous, unforgiving ball pressure on defense, with lots of trapping opportunities. We can also foresee the team looking for the early offense, spreading the floor well, and attacking with the dribble-drive when the defense opens up. We can anticipate unselfish ball movement to find the open shooter. Let’s just pray that our shooters will have their guns blazing in the tourney. Terrence Romeo, Matthew Wright, Roger Pogoy, and Jio Jalalon are all capable of shooting the lights out in any arena. If they connect well from beyond the arc, our chances of winning should be much higher.

    One thing’s for sure, Gilas will be playing their hearts out. Led by veterans Jason Castro William and Gabe Norwood, this team will never back down even against tremendous odds.

    The PBA D-League semis will start on Thursday with undefeated Flying V clashing with the Centro Escolar University (CEU) Scorpions, and the Cignal HD Hawkeyes tangling with either Tanduay Rhum or Marinerong Pilipino in a best-of-three series. Marinerong Pilipino was able to force a rubber match for the fourth and final semis berth with a thrilling 74-72 upset of the twice-to-beat Tanduay in their quarterfinal match last Thursday.

    Flying V, a first-time D-Leaguer, swept all its ten elimination games to take the first outright semis slot. Led by top MVP-contender and first round PBA Draft prospect Jeron Teng, the Flying V Thunder of coach Eric Altamirano emerged as the heavy favorites for the Foundation Cup crown. Teng has been unstoppable so far, posting remarkable stats including triple-doubles in this tournament. And he is not alone. Fellow Green Archer Thomas Torres has also been outstanding so far, even dropping 26 markers on Team Batangas last week. Gab Banal, Eric Salamat, Papot Paredes, Hans Thiele, Oda Tampus, Jeric Canada, Joshua Webb and Jan Colina – all former UAAP standouts—and JR Ongteco and Aris Dionisio complete a formidable roster that’s gunning for the title in its maiden conference. The other outright semis winner is Aspirants Cup champion Cignal that’s hoping for a repeat of its success last conference when it bagged the championship after a tight best-of-three contest with Racal Motors. But CEU and either Tanduay or Marinerong Pilipino will undeniably be a serious threat to the Thunder and Hawkeyes in the semis.

    We can expect a rousing semis week.

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