Coach Jong Uichico said Gilas Pilipinas is doing well in its preparation for the coming Kuala Lumpur SEA Games, but despite the team’s apparent advantage, the grizzled bench tactician can’t be too confident.
“We’re doing good so far, with the progress of the national team,” said Uichico. “Of course there are several things that we’d like to work on, but the players we have are doing good with our preparation for the SEA Games. We’re ready to play.”
His players are battle ready, but Uichico also stressed that their Southeast Asian rivals are also ready for them.
“We expect it to be tough. All the other teams are preparing for us,” said Uichico.
The men’s national team has ruled the SEA Games basketball event 17 times, including the last 11 biennial meets.
The only time the Philippines failed to win the gold medal was in 1989 when Malaysia won it on its home soil – in KL – with a stunning victory over the Filipinos under coach Derek Pumaren.
Uichico, who steered the Gilas ‘cadet’ to a gold medal finish during the 2013 Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar, said he expects a tough competition from Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.
In the Singapore SEA Games two years ago, Gilas won the title in dominant fashion – thanks to the presence of naturalized player Andray Blatche.
Aside from the former NBA player Blatche, Gilas also had PBA veterans like June Mar Fajardo, Calvin Abueva, Japeth Aguilar, Terrence Romeo, and rookies Jio Jalalon, Matthew Wright and RR Pogoy.
The said PBA players, however, are with coach Chot Reyes in the FIBA Asia Cup in Beirut, Lebanon that started yesterday.
Due to the conflict in schedule with SEA Games, which starts Aug. 19, Reyes had to form a separate team for the KL meet led by PBA player Kevin Ferrer and amateur stalwart Kiefer Ravena.
As part of their preparation, the national team is playing tune up matches with various college teams. Two days ago, they won against Ateneo, 86-79, at the Moro Lorenzo Gym.
The national team will play several more friendly games against top UAAP contenders Far Eastern University, National University and Adamson University starting Saturday.
The basketball squad will fly to KL with the main bulk of Team Philippines on Aug. 18.
Meantime, Malaysia’s sports minister has urged Indonesia to ensure that haze from raging forest fires does not affect the Southeast Asian Games this month, a report said Wednesday.
Malaysia will host the major multi-sport event from Aug. 19-30, with thousands of athletes from across the region descending on the capital Kuala Lumpur to take part.
However, there have been fears that choking smog from the fires in neighbouring Indonesia could float over Malaysia during the games.
The haze is an annual problem caused by slash-and-burn fires started to clear land for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations. It often blows over Malaysia and Singapore, causing flight cancellations, school closures and soaring rates of respiratory illness.