A Gilas practice player last year, Raymond Almazan driven to crack final roster this time
Raymond Almazan says he's looking to fill the void left by Marc Pingris and other former Gilas mainstays who were left out in the pool. Jerome Ascano

FROM mere invitee to official member of the pool, Raymond Almazan’s excitement over his Gilas Pilipinas call-up is the same, but he knows the expectations are higher.

Invited to be a warm body to make up the numbers for a national side that was hit with injuries in its buildup for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament last year, the Rain or Shine slotman has finally made the pool this year.

“Sa totoo lang, wala nagbago eh, ganun yung excitement ko eh,” Almazan said after the E-Painters’ loss to GlobalPort on Sunday night. “Kahit nung in-invite pa lang ako, feeling ko malaking bagay na sa akin yun. Makakatulong na ako sa mga players nun na practice player lang, to add a big body and and height.”

But the 6-foot-8 beanpole is eager to crack the final roster this time.

“Magpupursigi ako para mapasama sa lineup,” Almazan said. “I will do my best kung ano ang kailangan gawin tsaka yung mga ipapagawa ni Coach Chot. Alam ko hindi magiging madali, kasi ang dami namin.”

“Tsaka nakakahiya din, so kailangan punan mo yung mga naiwan nila,” he added, referring to the veterans who were left out in Marc Pingris, Gabe Norwood, Ranidel de Ocampo, and Jeff Chan. “Alam mo naman yung na-contribute nila Gabe, Kuya Ranidel, tsaka ni Kuya Ping, so sobrang laking bagay nun.”

“Para sa akin, make the most out of it na lang,” he continued.

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Former coach Yeng Guiao couldn’t be prouder of Almazan making it to the pool.

“Raymond (Almazan) worked hard for that position,” the new NLEX coach said. “I'm proud in the sense that I may have something to do with Raymond in the way he has improved his game. I'm happy for him. I'm sure when he participates in the Gilas program, he will be better.”

“Sabi ko nga, parang kay Beau din yan,” he added, referring to the situation of Belga who was the final cut for the 2013 Fiba Asia Championship team. “It's really hard work because you had to practice twice, you had to travel a lot kung mapili man sya, but it's worth it, that experience where you can't find anywhere else.”

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos