JIMMY Alapag warned Gilas Pilipinas of getting lulled into a slow start in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament next month, stressing it’s a shorter tournament than the Fiba Asia Championship or the World Cup.
The former national skipper implied that Gilas is basically in a must-win situation in its preliminary games against France and New Zealand in a group where only the top two teams will advance to the semifinals. Only the champion of the leg will claim one of three remaining berths to the Rio Olympics.
While welcoming the absence of NBA players on some teams in the Manila leg of the qualifiers from July 5 to 10, Alapag stressed that the current crop of Nationals’ focus should be entirely on them getting off to a great start.
“It helps that they’re not going to be playing, but I think the biggest challenge for Gilas is it’s not like the World Cup or Fiba Asia where you have two or three games to get your feet under you, so to speak, before you get to the knockout stages,” Alapag said after Meralco practice on Wednesday.
The Filipino dribblers could afford to lose a game in the preliminaries continental championships, evidenced by their loss to Chinese Taipei in their last game of the first round of the 2013 edition, before winning next five games to advance to the finals where they lost to Iran.
And just last year, Gilas lost a shock two-point decision to Palestine before winning its next seven games to reach the title round for the second straight time, losing to host China.
“Here (in the OQT), it’s two games and not to mention you have France opening night here at home.” said Alapag, whose late three-point daggers in the 2013 semifinals against archrival South Korea spelled the biggest difference in their vengeful win that brought the Philippines back to the world stage.
“So it’s just going to be important for the team to, while they’re training in Europe and getting those tune-up games in, I think they’re main focus has to be come July 5th that they get out there and really playing at a high level right from the beginning,” he added.
The 38-year-old Alapag underlined the significance of Gilas’ ongoing three-week training camp in Greece, Turkey, and Italy.
“Those training camps abroad are so important, not only just the court time – because you’re going to practice two to three times a day almost the whole trip, it’s just the time together,” he said.
“For some of those guys who are playing for Gilas for the first time, to get a chance to know the guys that have been there for a considerable amount of time … that’s really as important as the court time because the dynamic of the relationships change and that has an adverse effect on the court to building those relationships off the court.”
Alapag admitted he missed his time with Gilas.
“I’m excited for those guys. I miss being with them,” he admitted. “It’s one of the greatest parts about playing for Gilas. Of course, the competition, but you get a chance to get to know those guys on a deeper level. It’s not just guys you compete with throughout the year, it’s your teammates and you’re not just fighting for your PBA team, you’re fighting for your country. And getting an opportunity to get to know one another, it’s a great part of the process.”