GILAS Pilipinas passed its initial tests in the Fiba World Cup qualifiers – hurdling Japan and Chinese Taipei to complete a sweep of the first window of hostilities.
But aside from their opponents, the Filipino cagers also coped with the new home-and-away format that veered away from the tournament style of play, now seeing them having to deal with constant travel in under a week as national basketball teams got a taste of how their football counterparts go through their own World Cup qualification.
“It's simply a matter of them getting used to it mentally and physically,” Gilas coach Chot Reyes said. “Their bodies have to get used to it, and their minds have to get used to that kind of situation where you play a hard game, and then you go on a plane to travel three-and-a-half, four hours.”
The adjustment was evident last week when the Filipino flew to Tokyo last Tuesday, faced Japan on Friday, took a flight back home the next day, arrived at 2 p.m., then went straight to practice three hours later, before everything normalized on Sunday on the eve of their game against the Taiwanese.
It will only get worse in the second window for the qualifiers in February, where Gilas is set to travel to Sydney to face top favorite Australia.
After the February 22 game against the Boomers, Gilas hosts Japan three days later.
“Australia is going to be worse, because it's going to be eight, nine-hour plane ride for us,” Reyes continued. “Hopefully they get a better grasp of what it takes, mentally and physically.”
Skipper Gabe Norwood, the oldest player in the current lineup at 32, sensed his body can still take the rigorous demands of travel.
“It’s interesting,” the Gilas utility man said. “The format is so, so new. So many things can change in two months. Lord willing everybody stays healthy, but who’s to say?”
“That’s not just for us; that’s for every country playing in this format,” he added. “Moving forward, I think we understand now that we got a little more work to do, anticipate it and hopefully, all the powers in control would allow us to really prepare to the best of our abilities.”
At least playing on home soil on Monday night gave Gilas an emotional boost – but only after a sluggish start.
“To be able to perform in front of the home crowd, as much as it energized them, it also puts a lot of pressure on them, medyo masyadong gigil,” Reyes said. “So the guys who played really well, 'yung mga sanay na - Jayson, June Mar, they've been here before, they've had this experience.
“So now that other guys got that experience as well, hopefully it contributes to our continued growth,” he added.