Gilas Pilipinas is scheduled to hold its first practice tonight at the Meralco Gym to formally start preparation for the FIBA World Cup which kicks off Aug. 31 in Foshan, China.
The national cagers were supposed to begin last Thursday but coach Yeng Guiao decided to hold a meeting instead to give pool members an idea of what’s in store before the FIBA tourney.
Thirteen of the 14 players from the pool that were part of Gilas’ World Cup-clinching victories in Qatar and Kazakhstan last February are expected to participate in the twice-a-week practices that will last until July.
They are pros June Mar Fajardo, Roger Pogoy, Marcio Lassiter, Japeth Aguilar, Scottie Thompson, Raymond Almazan, Mark Barroca, Troy Rosario, Gabe Norwood, Paul Lee, Poy Erram and amateur Thirdy Ravena.
It is unsure if national team veteran Jayson Castro will be in attendance for the first day of practice after tying the knot last Saturday in his home province of Pampanga.
Naturalized player Andray Blatche is slated to arrive on July 8 from the United States.
Gilas is slated to participate in a four-team pocket tournament from Aug. 4 to 11 in Spain against the host country, Congo and Ivory Coast before returning home to wrap up preparations.
The team will have daily practices after the Spain trip before leaving for Foshan on Aug. 26.
Joining Gilas in Group D of the competition are world power Serbia, Italy and Angola. Gilas needs a top-two finish in order to make it to the second round.
The Philippines is looking to emerge as the best-placed Asian team in order to secure qualification to next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
Gilas can also have a second chance to reach the Tokyo Games if it secures a spot in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament slated next year.
FIBA said that the remaining four Olympic berths will be contested by 16 best non-qualifying teams in the World Cup and two countries per region.