COHESION, more than anything else, is the concern of national coach Jong Uichico ahead of Smart Gilas-Pilipinas’ Southeast Asian Basketball Association (Seaba) championship campaign in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
In his first international foray as coach since his team of pro players suffered a heartbreaking setback to South Korea in the Busan Asian Games in 2002, Uichico admitted his crew of amateur players only had the benefit of practicing together for close to a month.
The last-minute addition of three Alaska players in LA Tenorio, Sonny Thoss, and Mac Baracael only added to the challenge of achieving team chemistry.
“So we just have to try to get the team cohesive at the shortest possible time,” said the soft-spoken mentor shortly before departing for the cool Thai province on Sunday afternoon.
Thoss, Baracael and Tenorio’s inclusion was only confirmed on Thursday when Chot Reyes, the coach in-charge of the entire Smart Gilas program, announced during the PBA board meeting the kindness of the Alaska franchise to lend the services of the three players for the July 3-7 tournament.
“That allowed them to practice with the team for just two days only,” added Uichico.
Reyes described the team "as short in preparation, but long in heart," in his Twitter account @coachchot.
Team manager Butch Antonio said the meet was originally scheduled early May or June, but for some reason was moved back by the organizing committee.
“Basically we had to scramble to come up with the team as we had to adjust to the availability of the players,” he said.
The lean, 11-man unit is bannered by NLEX stalwarts Woody Co, Borgie Hermida, Eman Monfort, Garvo Lanete and Dave Marcelo, and Smart Pilipinas regulars Chris Tiu, Aldrech Ramos, and Marcus Douthit.
“Like any tournament, the anxiety before it starts is always there. Kailangan lang talaga is to get the juices and adrenalin flowing, and we’ll be fine,” Antonio said.
Smart Gilas drew an opening-day bye on Tuesday. It kicks off its campaign on Wednesday against Singapore, followed by games against Indonesia (Thursday), Malaysia (Friday), and host Thailand (Saturday).
The five-day meet is the qualifier for the Fiba-Asia Cup, popularly known as the Stankovic Cup.
“We return on Sunday hopefully, as winners,” said Antonio.