Despite 'distractions,' Chot Reyes likes Gilas chances vs Japan, Chinese Taipei
Andray Blatche joins Gilas in practice at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. Marlo Cueto

DESPITE the likely absence of one of its prolific scorers, the late arrival of go-to-guy Andre Blatche, and a game to be played before a hostile crowd, Chot Reyes still likes the chances of Gilas Pilipinas opposite Japan in its opening match in the FIBA World Cup qualifier this week.

The national team only started training camp two weeks ago and didn’t have the benefit of of a full practice until the 6-foot-11 Blatche arrived early Sunday morning and joined the team immediately at the Meralco gym.

Still that doesn’t dent Reyes' confidence about the team’s chances against the Japanese which the Filipinos play on Friday at the Komazawa Olympic Park General Sports Ground Gymnasium.

“I think we have a very good chance against Japan,” said Reyes, adding he feels the same about Gilas' home match against Chinese Taipei three days later. “I think we have a very good chance against Chinese Taipei.”

The Taiwanese also open their campaign Friday when they host powerhouse Australia at the Taipei Helping Basketball Gymnasium.

The four teams are bracketed in Group B of the home-and-away tournament.

Reyes would rather keep his cards close to his chest, but he was quick to point out the drawbacks the Filipinos will certainly encounter when they play the Japanese led by naturalized player Ira Brown before a hostile crowd in Tokyo.

“The main difficulty we will have in Japan is going to be the weather. It’s going to be cold,” said Reyes as his team is set to leave for the Japanese capital this Tuesday.

“Of course, they have the advantage of familiarity plus the crowd support. So those are the things we have to contend with.”  

Aside from Brown, also expected to suit up for the home team is old reliable Joji Takeuchi and hotshot Makoto Hiejima.

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Reyes said the door remains open for Terrence Romeo to be included in the final roster that will be submitted to FIBA on the eve of the match against Japan, although the status of the three-time PBA scoring champion remains uncertain as he was the only one missing in practice on Sunday out of the 16 players in the Gilas training pool.

Blatche’s delayed arrival also meant the former NBA player has to play catch-up in practice in the next 48 hours before the team departs for Tokyo.

“If we decide to put Andray in the lineup, essentially he’ll only have five practices with us before the (Japan) match,” explained Reyes. “So those are the negatives of the situations.”

The Filipinos beat the Japanese in the semifinals of the 2015 FIBA Asia Cup in Changsha, China, 81-70.

With Gilas returning home and playing Chinese Taipei at the comfort of the Smart Araneta Coliseum, Reyes feels even more confident about their Nov. 27 match.

“Against Chinese Taipei, we are going to play here, so I like that situation. We have homecourt advantage there,” he pointed out.

The Gilas coach though, appears wary about the cohesion of the Taiwanese team, which shocked the Filipinos in the preliminaries of the 2013 FIBA Asia Cup at the Mall of Asia Arena.

“The difference is Chinese Taipei has been together for a much, much longer time than this team has,” said Reyes, noting how the team has naturalized player Quincy Davis longer than Gilas has Blatche on board.

“The first time you saw Quincy Davis play with them was here in 2013, but they actually have been playing with Quincy since 2012, so that’s five years already and counting,” added Reyes. “So they’re very familiar with each other.

“Same thing with Japan. Ira Brown is a resident import in the JBA (Japanese Basketball Association). So that’s really their advantage.”

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Living up to Gilas’ popular ‘Puso’ mindset, Reyes keeps a very optimistic approach going to both games.

“Having said that, I think there are advantages and disadvantages on both sides. But to answer your questions, (yes) I like our chances,” he said.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @gerardmos