THE Smart Gilas 2.0 team that won the Jones Cup in Taipei will be almost intact when the country competes in the Fiba Asia Cup in two weeks time, thanks to dramatic turn of events on Friday that saw Alaska's Sonny Thoss and new Ginebra guard LA Tenorio get the green light from their respective teams.
National coach Chot Reyes made the announcement after getting clearance from Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas head Manny Pangilinan, delighted over the news that a team that defied the odds last week in Taipei will now get a chance to slug it out with Asia's big boys from September 14-22 in Tokyo.
"It's time for a good meal with the family and a nice bottle of red wine," Reyes told Spin.ph at the end of a hectic day that saw him grappling with different combinations as he faced the prospect of losing either Thoss or Tenorio -- or both -- as the deadline for the submission of lineups approached.
In the end, the lone change he had to make was put in Talk 'N Text's Jared Dillinger in place of Sol Mercado, but only because the spitfire guard won't be eligible to play for the Philippines under Fiba's strict rules even if he had suited up for the original Gilas team under Rajko Toroman in the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou.
Alaska's Mac Baracael and amateur Garvo Lanete, who were part of the 14-man Jones Cup team, also did not make the roster although Lanete will still join the trip as a reserve.
Other than that, everything fell into place for Reyes and his staff as he announced that Gabe Norwood, Larry Fonacier, Ranidel de Ocampo, Jeff Chan, Jay-R Reyes, Enrico Villanueva, Gary David, naturalized player Marcus Douthit, Matt Rosser, Thoss and Tenorio will be back for the Tokyo tournament.
Tenorio made the team on a day when the four-team trade that sent him to Ginebra was finally completed. PBA Commissioner Chito Salud later revealed that he has received word from SMC officials that they will allow their prized acquisition to stay on with Gilas.
SMC sports consultant Noli Eala said that contrary to popular belief, the conglomerate was willing to lend players from its three PBA ballclubs to the national team, so long as a formal request is made.
Reyes, however, said the offer came too late in the day.
"Too late," Reyes said in a message to Spin.ph.
Thoss was the final piece of the puzzle to fall into place, his stint very much in doubt until he had a talk with Alaska team owner Wilfred Uytengsu who later softened his stand and gave him the go-signal.
Alaska coach Luigi Trillo said Uytengsu gave the 6-7 Thoss the green light on the condition that the player delay his departure for Tokyo by a day and promise that he will immediately fly back to Manila if Smart Gilas 2.0 is knocked out of contention.
“Even if Gilas still has a few games left on its schedule, once they get eliminated, Sonny will have to leave for Manila earlier,” Trillo told Spin.ph at the end of the Aces' practice at the Reyes gym.
Uytengsu took into consideration the fact that Thoss is the longest-tenured player in the Aces' lineup as he softened his stand on not allowing the team's players to join Gilas in the Tokyo tournament, Trillo said.
“Boss Fred took into consideration Sonny being the longest tenured player in the team right now,” Trillo said. "Boss Fred heard what Sonny said during their talk and after weighing things carefully, he has allowed Sonny to join the Gilas team."
Thoss, who belonged to the 2004 rookie class that included current San Mig Coffee (formerly B-Meg) superstar James Yap and Talk ‘N Text’s Richard Alvarez (the top overall pick), was understandably elated by Uytengsu’s decision.
“Who wouldn’t want to represent the country? I mean, playing for the national team gives me an opportunity to grow further as an athlete. It’s basically going up to the next level. The rest is just a bonus, like getting to know other culture whenever we travel,” Thoss said.
The Fil-German Alaska center said he understood Uytengsu’s desire to keep the team intact during the offseason since the Aces didn’t do well the past season.
“I know boss Fred is concerned with my health because I will have to practice with the team immediately once we’re done playing in the Asia Cup. But I also explained that this is an opportunity for me to play for the country. And he understood my point,” added Thoss, whose German father and Filipina mother are now based in Cebu City.