ON the eve of a Metro Manila-wide earthquake drill, Gilas Pilipinas held its first practice under head coach Tab Baldwin at the Meralco Gym.
It hardly created ripples.
The turnout was hardly earth-shaking, the disappointment among the fans not so much for the 10 players who showed up for the first practice on Wednesday night but for the players who weren't there.
Even former Gilas coach Rajko Toroman could feel the fans' disappointment from faraway Jordan, where he has already started practice this week while the Philippines is still in the process of putting together a pool, less than two months before the Fiba Asia championships in Changsha, China.
“They (some of the players) are not going to (back) to Gilas? Is there still chance to go or they refused to go? That’s sad,” said Toroman, sharing the fans' grief.
“When I was there, the situation was better. Everyone was supporting the national team. The problem is, (it has precedent) long time ago. It’s not the first time,” he added.
The Serbian coach is understandably excited with his new team, which started its buildup for the Fiba Asia wars more than a week ago with a 14-man lineup that is expected to be joined by new naturalized player Alex Legion.
“We have (Zaid) Abbas, Sam (Daghles) and very excellent team players; we’re now a team that can play in the Fiba Asia,” Toroman said.
The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of Gilas, which is in danger of being without a host of players from the original wish list drawn up by Baldwin for the team bound for the Asian qualifier for the 2016 Olympics.
The national team, in fact, is in danger of being left without most of the key holdovers from the team that finished runner-up to Iran two years ago, among them 2013 Jones Cup MVP LA Tenorio who surprisingly begged off from consideration citing poor form.
Tenorio is just one of four players from the San Miguel Corp. camp that are doubtful for the team, joining Star forward Marc Pingris, SMB center June Mar Fajardo and gunner Marcio Lassiter who played for Toroman in the original Gilas team.
Rain or Shine, once a staunch supporter of the national team, may loan just one player in Gabe Norwood, leaving Gilas without key prospects like Paul Lee, Jeff Chan, and Raymond Almazan.
The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) said the reason it has delayed the announcement of the official lineup to Monday is to give the Gilas staff more time to hopefully convince more players to join the pool.
But at this point, it may take the intervention of SBP president Manny V. Pangilinan to convince fellow team owners to release players to the Gilas pool.
Hopefully, it is not too late.
Since June, Spin.ph has already reported that Baldwin is having a hard time recruiting players for Gilas. Now it's panic time for the national team.
Toroman admitted it is hard to imagine a Philippine team without Fajardo and Co.
“It is (a big blow), because June Mar had experienced a lot of championship games, especially in the last few games (of the PBA season) he played very good. Marcio is one of the best guards in the Philippines, Paul Lee and Tenorio are both good point guards, they’re very experienced,” he said.
Still, he believes Gilas will remain a force to be reckoned with regardless of who will don the national colors in China, simply because of the deep pool of talent in the PBA.
“I believe that the Philippines can make a very strong team, thirty or forty players can play for the national without any problems. You can make a very strong team that can match with the rest of teams in Asia,” he said.