SMART Gilas Pilipinas 2.0 has found a major ally in President Benigno Aquino III who has promised to help the reigning Jones Cup champions field an intact team for next month's Fiba Asia Cup in Japan.
The President promised team officials that he will help convince PBA ballclubs to continue to lend their players to the national team during the Gilas team's courtesy call on Thursday at Malacanang.
Gilas coach Chot Reyes is having problems keeping the Jones Cup champion team intact for the Fiba Asia Cup since some teams are hesitant to release their players owing to the proximity of the September 14-22 tournament to the opening of the pro league's season on September 30.
Told of the team's problem during the hour-long courtesy call, Reyes said the President "promised to help with the teams which refuse to lend players.”
Team manager Butch Antonio added: “Actually the President asked what help can he extend to the team, and the matter was naturally one of those brought up.”
The mood was otherwise light during the courtesy call, attended by all the players except for Jeff Chan and the support staff. Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Manny Pangilinan, who is out of the country, was represented by Smart Communications chief wireless advisor Doy Vea.
The team later had a photo op with the President and presented him with an original Smart Gilas-Pilipinas 2.0 uniform with the number 1 on the back of the jersey. A ball bearing the signature of the entire team was also given to the Chief Executive.
Aquino later lauded the Nationals for an achievement that the nation can be proud of, saying, ”your victory was a welcome respite for all the bad news the country had been receiving of late.”
Reyes said the feeling was mutual.
“We appreciated the invite. I think it’s a big lift to the program for the country’s leader to recognize it,” he said.