Young Gilas 5.0 embraces FIBA Asia Challenge

MANILA, Philippines – Gilas Pilipinas 5.0 knows it's a young, inexperienced team compared to its foes in the upcoming 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge in Tehran, Iran. But they are embracing the challenge.

"I’m proud of each and every one of these guys, everybody on the pool," said coach Josh Reyes, who will handle Gilas for this tournament, after practice on Monday, August 29.

"Even though they know this current pool is up to the (FIBA Asia) Challenge only and all of them are still vying for slots in the real Gilas cadet pool, they’re all here and are brave young men willing to go there. Come what may."

This latest version of the Philippine national men's basketball team will have no professional players and instead is an all-amateur squad with standouts from the UAAP and NCAA, including UST's Kevin Ferrer, FEU's Mac Belo and Mike Tolomia, as well as Ateneo's Von Pessumal. (READ: Ferrer, Belo banner Philippine team in FIBA Asia Challenge)

Going up against veteran teams from India and Chinese Taipei in the first round will be the players' first encounter with international play at this level. But Ferrer, who is viewed as one of the leaders, is showing some guts.

"Underdog sinasabi sa amin, maraming negative comments. Challenge sa amin na i-prove na mali 'yung iniisip nila (They say we're underdogs, there are plenty of negative comments. It's a challenge for us to prove that what they're thinking is wrong)," said the 23-year-old Ferrer, who sees youth and inexperience as a motivation.

"Okay lang naman na sabihing bata. Nandoon naman ang process, step by step. Hindi naman kami naglalaro lang as individuals. Country i-re-represent namin. Extra work kami."

(It's okay to say we're young. The process is there, step by step. We aren't playing as individuals. We're representing the country. We'll put in extra work.)

"Whoever they have to face, they’re just ready to go to battle. All of us are not making any excuses but we just want to perform the best we can," Reyes added.

Gilas 5.0's average age is 24 years old with the youngest at 22. Though India and Chinese-Taipei have almost similar average ages, they are spliced with experienced members.

Another worry is the size disadvantage. Reyes shared his concern that his players may get shell-shocked facing much taller players, and how they can recover from getting rattled during competition.

This team, after all, has only been practicing for a month with tune-up games against the FEU Tamaraws and the Ateneo Blue Eagles. Reyes is targeting one last scrimmage with the Mighty Sports team that includes towering former PBA imports such as Al Thornton and Vernon Macklin.

"There's no way to replicate playing against actual 7-footers. It’s going to be the first time for them to see men that size in the basketball court trying to defend them and block their shots," Reyes explained.

"Hopefully we’ll get more practice sessions together as a complete unit and then we’ll be able to clean things up. We have our work cut out for us," he added.

If anything, Reyes wants Gilas 5.0 members to have a productive campaign and gain every bit of experience they can.

"The only thing I don't want is for us to accept that we're going to the tournament as maybe the weakest team. We want to go to the tournament looking to win and not just lying down," Reyes said.

"The best way to get experience is to compete and to compete we have to work hard every possession, and that way, the experience will be worth it," he added. (WATCH: Coach Josh Reyes talks about Gilas FIBA Asia Challenge campaign)

The team leaves for Iran on Tuesday, September 6, for the competition from September 9 to 18. The top 5 finishers will earn an additional berth for their respective sub-zones in the FIBA Asia Cup (formerly FIBA Asia Championship) next year. – Rappler.com