MANILA, Philippines – For the first time, members of the Gilas Pilipinas pool were divided into 3 teams of 5 for full up and down scrimmages during a practice session at the Meralco Gym on Tuesday night, April 11.
The Philippine national team wore jerseys of red, white, and blue in what was the team's first practice session outside of the weekly Monday nights they've been used to in the past month.
Gilas will continue on to daily practices beginning Monday, April 17, after Easter Sunday.
The team ran various drills and plays both on offense and defense, and they were understandably imperfect.
"First time that we've actually played defense and gone up and down on a 5-on-5 situation," Reyes said. "Expectedly it was far from smooth, far from ideal, but it's part of the learning process. It's part of the building process."
The team has exactly a month left before the 2017 SEABA Championships tip off here, where they will face their improved Southeast Asian neighbors in a bid to qualify for the FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon come August.
Seven men sat out practice owing to scheduled PBA games with their respective teams Wednesday night, including guard Terrence Romeo.
Only rookie Mike Tolomia opted to still join practice despite Rain or Shine's match against Phoenix.
"The 4 teams that have games are excused from practice," Reyes said. "Special shoutout to Mike Tolomia who still came out and practiced even if he was in fact excused. He just wanted to come in and continue working."
Reyes admitted having players reduced to spectators is an unfortunate reality they have to live with since the PBA season is still ongoing.
"It prevents us from getting into any kind of rhythm or practice cadence. But like I've always said, it is what it is. We make do with what we are given so we just continue doing our best," he explained.
"As coaches we have to be very creative in the practice design and still keep our eye out for continuity and being able to build. That's why we keep telling the players even though they're not actually practicing [that] they need to be here so that they can see what's going on."
Tuesday's practice took place hours after the press conference, contract signing, and logo unveiling for the SEABA tournament at the Holiday Inn, where the tournament schedule and ticket prices were also revealed.
As in past sessions, Gilas once again practiced with a notable guest in their midst.
Former team captain Dondon Hontiveros paid the team a visit, watching practice from the sidelines right beside another ex-skipper, Jimmy Alapag.
"I was just making sure kung si Calvin (Abueva) ginagawa niya 'yung pag-English niya dito sa practice, sila ni Bryan (Cruz)," Hontiveros joked about the reason for his visit.
(I was just making sure that Calvin is speaking English here in practice, same with Bryan.)
Turning serious, the 39-year-old Alaska swingman said he was impressed by the current crop of national team prospects despite it being their first time going 5-on-5.
"I was very impressed with their commitment," he said. "They have an agreement that those with games can sit out practice, but to come up here, they still want to learn. The guys who practiced, I was impressed with the competition they showed. Because that's the only way to improve, to compete with the other guys."
Hontiveros did not give a speech to the team, unlike Marc Pingris when he visited.
But he was happy to see the cadets display eagerness and determination in playing for flag and country.
"I'm very excited to see them. To come out here at this time every day and to go all out for an hour and a half, nakakatuwa (it's gladdening). Magandang pangitain (That's a good sign.)"
Hontiveros did not deny missing the youth he once had, and how that left him reminiscing with Alapag about the good old days.
"Jimmy and I talked about the Gilas training camp in Tagaytay," he shared in Filipino. "The kids were told to jog first but they were enthusiastic and excited so they ran fast. To think they had to travel from Manila to the south then practice right away."
"I told him, 'I remember you, before you have to work out before you practice and then work out again after practice,'" he added.
"Ang bilis ng panahon, parang kailan lang kasama kami 2002 tapos ngayon nasa sideline na (Time flew by so fast, not too long ago we were just with the 2002 team and now we're on the sidelines)."
A known lethal outside shooter, Hontiveros singled out Allein Maliksi, who is filling in for injured guard Paul Lee, as someone he believes can be the next best marksman for Gilas.
He also noted RR Pogoy, Jonathan Grey, and Terrence Romeo. – Rappler.com