ITS campaign in the 39th staging of the Jones Cup may only be a springboard to bigger battles ahead. Still, that doesn’t mean Gilas Pilipinas won't be going all-out in its defense of the title the Philippines handily won last year.
Members of the national team bound for Chinese Taipei this weekend vowed to play like the reigning champion despite the greater odds facing them in a tournament that jumpstarts their bid in two other major international meets they will be joining next month – the Southeast Asian Games and the Fiba Asia Cup.
A sendoff press launch was held for the entire team on Wednesday courtesy of top benefactor Chooks To Go at the Bar One Restaurant of the Holiday Inn in Ortigas.
“Yes, they say this is a preparatory tournament. But like any other endeavor, like any competitions Gilas participates in, there is only one objective, and the objective is to win,” declared long-time team manager Butch Antonio during the affair attended by the 16 players and team executives along with Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) officials led by vice-chairman Robbie Puno.
“Should we fall short, let everybody be assured that this team will be the hardest working team in the tournament,” he added.
Present were Mac Belo, Roger Pogoy, Bobby Ray Parks, Carl Bryan Cruz, Almond Vosotros, Kiefer Ravena, Kobe Paras, Christian Standhardinger, Matthew Wright, Alfonso Gotladera, Von Pesummal, Reymar Jose, Kevin Ferrer, Ed Daquioag, Mike Tolomia, and import Mike Myers.
Only Jio Jalalon and head coach Chot Reyes were not around. Reyes is currently in the U.S. for a business trip and will fly directly to Taiwan to join the team for the Jones Cup, which was won last year by a Mighty Sports side beefed up by a number of imports.
Gilas last won the Taipei showpiece in 2013 with LA Tenorio being named MVP.
Josh Reyes expects the tournament to serve as a test against the youthful Gilas side as it goes up against teams from Canada, India, Iran, Iraq, Japan, South Korea, Lithuania, and the host country.
“That’s a good way to test right away their composure,” said the Gilas deputy mentor. “We just want some character out there.
The young coach mentioned Canada as among the outright contenders for the title.
“Right off the bat, we don’t know Canada. They will be big, they will be athletic. Matt (Wright) knew some of the players. They have a 7-footer who can shoot from the outside and is really long,” he said.
“But as expectations go, of course, we want to compete and try to win it all.”
Ravena admitted the meet would be a good warm-up tournament for the national team as it gears up for the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and the FIBA Asia Cup in Beirut, Lebanon.
“It’s nice to get momentum going to bigger tournaments which really counts for Gilas Pilipinas,” said the former two-time UAAP MVP. “And the Jones Cup is one step moving forward for the (Gilas) program.”
“Pero pinaka-importante yung manalo ka pa rin and have the opportunity for us to win the championship and keep it here in the Philippines.”
Gilas plays Canada on opening day this Saturday at the Taipei Peace International Basketball Hall.
The Chinese Taipei Team B comes next on the 16th, followed by Chinese Taipei A (17th), Japan (18th), South Korea (19th), Iraq(20th), Lithuania (21st), India (22nd), and finally Iran (23rd).