Gilas Pilipinas began its daily practices leading up to the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers on Monday.
Andray Blatche participated in his first practice while 12 other players were present. PBA standouts Matthew Wright, Gabe Norwood, Roger Pogoy, Kiefer Ravena, Carl Bryan Cruz, Kevin Alas, June Mar Fajardo, Jayson Castro, Jio Jalon, and Calvin Abueva were among those in attendance.
Japeth Aguilar was in street clothes while Abu Tratter was the lone representative from the 23 for 2023 pool. From the senior Gilas pool, only Mac Belo, Allein Maliksi, and Troy Rosario were absent.
With roughly 10 days left before they go up against Australia on February 22, Gilas head coach Chot Reyes has yet to announce the final roster for the second window. However, Reyes isn't expecting Rosario to be at full strength and ready by that time. Rosario, unfortunately, suffered an injury during his last game against the Phoenix Fuel Masters.
Asked if he was anticipating the TNT forward to catch up in the daily practices, Reyes simply shook his head and answered, "No."
In light of Rosario's absence, the number of players available for to face Australia and Japan has dwindled. Reyes already made it clear that both Raymond Almazan and Calvin Abueva will not join them in the second window because of their absences. Abueva participated during Monday's practice but the Gilas mentor clarified that the Alaska Aces star won't be replacing the injured Rosario just yet.
"We have 16, 15, guys and we have some other guys like Tratter also on the pool. So it's hard. We have to make a decision," Reyes divulged on whether or not Rosario will be replaced, also citing that Abueva is merely doing his duty as part of the national team pool.
"The PBA players are still going to be playing with their mother teams all throughout this week," Reyes went on, talking about the availability of his players throughout the daily trainings. "So that's why we're kind of grappling with that situation now. That's why it's very hard to make any decisions."
The Gilas players practicing for the qualifiers won't be exempted from their PBA games throughout this week, including the Sunday games, making the final preparations a bit more challenging than expected. Reyes also dismissed the idea of having twice-a-day practices as the PBA teams will also have to train.
From an earlier understanding with the PBA, Reyes and his coaching staff are assuming that Gilas pool members will be excused from their mother teams at least two weeks before a competition. That agreement between the PBA and its teams has obviously not been fulfilled but Reyes isn't discouraged by the recent developments.
"That's out of our hands. The mother teams have the final say on the players," Reyes simply said.
The challenge of having players regularly attending the Gilas practices goes hand-in-hand with the news that PBA teams can lend more than one player to the national team.
"When you all asked me what's my reaction to the more than one player rule, I said, it's great but you know, the real question is how much practice can we get? We have that luxury of having more than one player but we don't have practice times," the longtime coach lamented.
Despite the limited time and amount of practice, Reyes is trying to make the most out of the situation. He is not disheartened nor dispirited by the hurdles the national team is currently facing. He still expects all the Gilas pool members to be in practice every day throughout the week until they leave for Australia on February 19.