PHNOM PENH — Under heavy threat from beefed-up opposition and adverse conditions, Gilas Pilipinas gets the ball rolling for its Gold or Bust mission in the 32nd Southeast Asian Games today.
With over 100 million hoops-loving countrymen watching with keen, if not nervous interest, the Nationals battle Malaysia at 1 p.m. at the oven-hot Morodok Techo National Stadium Elephant Hall 2 (2 p.m. in Manila), locked in on a flying start in their vindication drive.
“We know we have our work cut out for us but I know all the guys on our team are ready for the challenge. So we’re looking forward to getting started,” Gilas skipper Chris Ross said on the eve of their Group A opening assignment.
The Malaysians should be a relatively light hurdle before the true test comes Thursday versus host Cambodia, a squad starring a slew of American-born naturalized players.
Three of the Cambodian imports, Darrin Dorsey, Brandon Peterson and Sayeed Pridgett, even suited up for the crew that beat Gilas 3×3 for the gold the other day.
A showdown with unheralded Singapore on May 13 will cap the group assignments of Gilas 5.
“This is going to be interesting. I think it’s going to be the first time you’ll see that many naturalized players on one team,” said SEAG debutant Justin Brownlee, the lone import in the Philippine fold.
“Good thing about Filipino players, they’re always playing imports, players from the US, and we’re used to playing foreigners internationally. I can’t wait to go up against them. It’s going to be a great matchup for us.”
Aside from the imports, Mr. Brownlee and Co. are dealing with the intense heat here. Games will be played in a 1,000-seater venue without air-conditioning units and Gilas will take the court at 1 p.m., where the temperature is usually around 37 degrees outside, for two of the three games.
“I think everyone is worried about the heat. But there’s no advantage because everybody’s got to deal with it. So we just have to make sure we hydrate and take care of our bodies on that aspect and I think everybody will be okay,” said Mr. Brownlee.
“…I just don’t know why we’re playing at 1 (p.m.) and not some other time. But that’s the nature of the competition and we just have to make the best and play the game,” says coach Chot Reyes.
Gilas had its first practice yesterday at the venue and had to adjust to the taraflex flooring that is glued on the hardcourt. — Olmin Leyba