GILAS Pilipinas departs for New Zealand via a Cathay Pacific flight Tuesday afternoon looking to step up its Fiba-Asia Championship buildup with a 10-day training tour.
The national training pool embarks on a long, tiring 20-hour journey to Napier, with a six-hour layover in Hong Kong and a brief stopover in Auckland.
After a brief rest, the national hopefuls buckle down to work, starting the closing stage of their preparation for the FIBA Asia Championship where they chase a ticket to the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
For most of the pool members, hard work began as early as last year, and they’re not about to relax with the Asian meet just around the corner.
Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes said they will try to hit 90 percent of Fiba-Asia readiness in their New Zealand odyssey highlighted by a five-day clinic under renowned coach Tab Baldwin and six tune-up matches in the cities of Napier, Wellington and Auckland.
After developing camaraderie and getting in shape in Lithuania, Gilas Pilipinas is hoping the New Zealand journey will help the team become a perfectly tuned machine under Reyes' system.
“Kailangan magkakaamuyan na ng husto ang mga players pagbalik sa Manila,” said Reyes.
As the alternative to their botched Jones Cup stint, the New Zealand trip offers Gilas Pilipinas clinic sessions with coach Baldwin and a tune-up series topped by a game versus the New Zealand national team.
“We all know that New Zealand basketball is good kaya yoon ang pinili natin. Importante pa, yung teams doon are in season, kaya they’re in shape,” said Reyes.
The national coach also looks forward to the clinic, expecting to learn valuable lessons from Baldwin who had been in the Asian basketball circle for about four years, having steered Jordan to a breakthrough second-place finish in the Wuhan Asian joust in 2011.
Baldwin and his Jordan team beat Iran in the quarterfinals, crushed the Philippines in the semifinals, and narrowly lost to China in the finale.
A year earlier, the Jacksonville, Florida native piloted the Lebanese national team to the Fiba Asia Stankovic Cup title conquest.
He has since returned to New Zealand, his base since the 90s where he was made an honorary officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his great achievement in engineering the Tall Blacks’ semifinal finish in the 2002 World Championship in Indianapolis.
Having made the rounds of Asian basketball in 2010 and 2011 with great success, the 55-year-old coach is expected to dissect the games of the Asian powers for Gilas Pilipinas.