CEBU CITY – If Gilas Pilipinas is to topple the very best basketball teams in Asia, it will have to rely not just on skills and guts X and Os.
This band of brothers will have to fight as one.
Much like its Gilas predecessors, this Gilas batch has forged a unique bond rooted in a brotherhood that has been strengthened over these past few weeks - and continues to be nurtured over such menial things as a good meal.
This was never more evident than on the third day of the national team's training camp here when the team – players, coaches and officials – shared a sumptuous lunch together, boodle-fight style, at a swanky resort in Lapu-Lapu City, 10 minutes away from their base camp.
While no on-court practice was scheduled on Wednesday morning, the team instead trooped over to the posh resort where they hit the weight room before partaking of the hearty lunch.
According to veteran big man Asi Taulava, the familial atmosphere that has been cultivated by the team’s management will be vital to the team's success in the Fiba Asia Championship in Changsha, China beginning next week.
“We really don’t look at it like we’re a team. We’re more of a family. From Estonia to the Jones Cup to now, we’ve seen how much better we’ve gotten along as a team,” shared Taulava, the team’s elder statesman at 42.
The 6-10 NLEX big man shared that he and Cebuano Dondon Hontiveros – being the eldest members of the squad – share in the “big brother” duties by keeping everyone in check and focused for the difficult task at hand.
“We’re the big brothers here. Anything that they need to talk about, we approach it in a different way. Within the team, it’s like a ‘brother’ relationship. Nobody has any hard feelings and we try to keep everyone focused on the task at hand," said 'The Rock.' "That’s the journey we’re on: trying to make it to Rio.”
For his part, Hontiveros said that the team’s neophytes have been nothing short of receptive to the nuggets of advice that he and the rest of the veterans try to impart.
“Nakikinig din naman sila eh. We’re here to guide them, especially the younger guys. It’s our responsibility and to their credit, they’re also very attentive. They’re very eager to learn,” shared the 38-year old gunner, who is the team’s de facto host in this training camp.
Hontiveros said there is no longer any question about the team's chemistry, more so when he sees the team's American-New Zealander head coach, Tab Baldwin, eating hand to mouth like everybody else in the boodle fight.
“Chemistry isn’t really an issue here because nobody here believes that they’re the star," said the Alaska veteran forward. "We’re all way past that.”