TAIPEI - A new-look and youth-laden Gilas Pilipinas side arrived in this city on Friday to face its first real test as a unit against some of the best national and club teams from Asia and beyond in the 39th William Jones Cup.
Gilas, led by team manager Butch Antonio and assistant coaches Jimmy Alapag, Josh Reyes, and Jong Uichico, was in a relaxed, upbeat mood as it made the short, hassle-free trip from Manila and immediately checked in at The Howard Plaza Hotel in downtown Taipei.
The team was later joined by head coach Chot Reyes, who came in straight from the US, for a light 7 p.m. practice.
That should be the calm before the storm as Gilas prepares to play nine games in as many days beginning on Saturday against Canada, made up of a selection of players from its national league led by seven-footer Dallin Bachynski and coached by reigning Coach of the Year Kyle Julius.
"This should be a good test for this new group," said Uichico of the 17-man Gilas side brought here to prepare for the Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur next month and - for players like Matthew Wright, Jio Jalalon, and Roger Pogoy - to get more match exposure ahead of the Fiba Asia Cup in Lebanon.
The Philippines has for so long been among the top draws in this tournament where it has enjoyed considerable success beginning with Ron Jacobs' NCC side in the eighties to the Centennial Team of PBA players coached by Tim Cone that won the 1998 tournament.
This Gilas side, though, is so young it doesn't have a single holdover from the last Philippine national team to rule this annual tournament in 2012 coached by Reyes. Only coaches Alapag, Josh Reyes and Uichico remain from the side coached by Tab Baldwin that finished runner-up to Iran in 2015.
But that doesn't mean this Gilas side will be inferior to its predecessors.
The lineup put together by Reyes is blessed with a lot of athleticism thanks to amateur stars Kobe Paras and Kiefer Ravena as well as Gilas cadets like Pogoy and Jalalon. The addition of Fil-German Christian Standhardinger and import Mike Myers bolsters its frontline.
Reyes should get a good read on how well this team can play against quality opposition in the game against the Canadians, who also have an NBA D-League veteran in Deigo Kapelan, Dwyane Smith and Bachyski, who is the only player with national team experience in the team.
It doesn't get any easier for Gilas from there as matches against Lithuania, Iran, South Korea and Japan await over the next nine days, with the Asian sides' lineups sprinkled with national players owing to this tournament's proximity to the Fiba Asia Cup.