FINALLY, Gilas Pilipinas will have a semblance of competition.
The national team and coach Chot Reyes fly to Lithuania Sunday night for an intensive two-week training camp and tune-up games against top local clubs in the hope of gaining the competitive sharpness they’re still lacking with just over two months left before the Fiba-Asia Men’s Championship.
Despite the injuries that ravaged the team and the lack of competitive tournaments to play, Reyes said the nationals remain very much focus on the huge task ahead.
“Number one, dun kami makukundisyon,” Reyes said, referring to the team’s European exposure, with no less than former Lithuanian national coach Kestusis Kemzura supervising the training camp.
“Number two, we hope to gain competitive sharpness as a team kasi wala pa naman kaming laro. We haven’t played together.
“And finally, it’s the chemistry kasi halos 24/7 magkakasama sila. This is where the team spirit will be formed,” added the outspoken national mentor prior to Gilas’ departure.
Jason Castro, part of the 13-man training pool that will be in the Baltic State from June 2-16, said he is eager to learn as much as he can during his first overseas trip with the national team.
“Excited na din ako. For sure, marami kaming matututunan. Iyon ang kailangan namin eh. Since February, ngayon lang kami magkakasama at magkakalaro so this time seryoso na ito,” said the diminutive Talk `N Text guard.
The Lithuania trip is a 21-hour sojourn, beginning with a three-hour flight to Bangkok followed by a two-hour layover.
The nationals then take a nine-hour flight out to Copenhagen, Denmark, followed by a five-hour layover, before going on another two-hour flight to Vilnius, Lithuania.
From the capital city of Lithuania, Gilas then takes a three-hour bus ride to Palanga, the venue of the team's training camp.
Along with Castro, also with the training pool in the trip are LA Tenorio, Larry Fonacier, Ranidel de Ocampo, Jimmy Alapag, June Mar Fajardo, Marc Pingris, Japeth Aguilar, Gary David, Gabe Norwood, Jeff Chan, and naturalized player Marcus Douthit.
Last-minute addition Beau Belga will follow the team within the week.
Out of the Lithuania camp are injured players Kelly Williams (recurring blood disorder), Jared Dillinger (fractured pelvic), Ryan Reyes (hamstring), and Sonny Thoss (back).
The Philippines is bidding for at least a third place finish in the Fiba-Asia showcase which Manila is hosting for the first time since 1973.
A top three finish in the meet would earn the country a berth in the Fiba World championships in Spain next year.
The Philippines last played in the World Championship in 1978 when the country hosted the meet.