Tim Cone's Gilas Pilipinas pool convened for the first time to kick off their 2019 Southeast Asian Games buildup on Monday at the Meralco Gym in Pasig.
Ginebra's six-man core of Stanley Pringle, Japeth Aguilar, Greg Slaughter, LA Tenorio, Art dela Cruz and Scottie Thompson were present, as well as Vic Manuel, Matthew Wright, RR Pogoy, Troy Rosario, Jayson Castro, Chris Ross, Christian Standhardinger, and Marcio Lassiter.
Only June Mar Fajardo was absent due to an ankle issue, while Standhardinger and Lassiter did not participate in any on-court activities as they continue to nurse their respective injuries.
"We expect [June Mar] to show up on Thursday. He has an ankle issue so he would not have practiced with us. He would have been on the side with Chris and Marcio. He's the cornerstone of the national team, him and Jayson. We need him on the team and we need him healthy, so we're gonna be patient with him. He's gonna be one of those guys who pick up stuff really fast," Cone said of Fajardo.
Cone admitted to getting a bit nostalgic after running his first prep with the national team since his last stint with the Centennial Team that captured bronze in the 1998 Asian Games.
"Just brings back so many memories of 1998 for me. Walking into a room with those 15 great players, all superstars in their own right," Cone gushed. "I see them from a distance so much. We plan against them, we watch them on video, we know their weaknesses and strengths but we don't really get the chance to talk and get to know them. It's a completely different light. That to me was the biggest impact."
The first practice was characterized as "very basic", with the team focusing more on absorbing light concepts on offense and defense.
"We spent most of our time talking. We didn't have a lot of court time. We just ran some basic offense and basic defense. We're gonna continue to do that and try to build a foundation and then build from there. It's more complicated than just bringing 15 guys in and having them play," Cone shared.
However, the national team won't be running his triangle offense and will instead roll with a variation of the vaunted system using some "triangle concepts" -- similar to what Cone ran with the Alaska Aces for 22 years.
"When you talk about triangle, you talk about the Tex Winter triangle and the pure triangle. We're playing more of a motion offense. It's easier to teach, it's easier to learn but still a read-react offense like the triangle so we're gonna use concepts of the triangle," he explained.
Cone cleared the pool won't focus heavily on offense, where the coach thinks Gilas will excel right off the bat, and said that it's their work on the other end of the floor that will really matter during the buildup.
"I think we underestimate the defensive side when we put national teams together, and I think we could be a great defensive team or at least be on the same page," said Cone. "[If] we have schemes, we know what we're gonna be doing defensively, then our offense will take care of itself.
"Again I think I could roll the ball, close my eyes, pick out five guys from a hat, throw them out there and they're gonna be great offensively. But let's make sure they're great defensively too."
Gilas Pilipinas only has nine Mondays left to prepare for the regional meet, but plans to squeeze in more sessions as they go along.
"We realized we have a short number of practices so we wanna be concise. That's why we're being strict on how we handle the practices, who's around, because we have such a short window," Cone said. "That's one practice left. So it's kinda like a countdown. Every practice has to be concise and efficient. No distractions. Come in, let's do the work."
Next week's practice will be altered and moved to Thursday due to the overseas trips of NLEX, Ginebra and San Miguel to Dubai for two game days.
"Nine of the players are gonna be Dubai. It's gonna be a nine-hour trip, we're gonna be over there for two days thenc ome back for another nine hours. It's gonna be very taxing. I know I don't wanna practice on Monday. I'm gonna be wiped out from those flights. Maybe if I had a business class I'd lay down all night but I'm gonna be in economy the whole night. It's gonna be a tough, tough trip," Cone said, laughing.
Once the schedule normalizes, the team will look at a number of possible options to bolster their preparations -- one of which includes some modified tune-ups with Alab Pilipinas from the Asean Basketball League (ABL) -- while keeping everybody healthy until December.
"We're talking to the ABL to allow them to come in. Obviously we want the PBA teams but they're in the middle of their own thing so we can't ask them. They have three imports, so it would be a good test for us to play them. Maybe we'll only play a couple of quarters or three quarters of a game instead of a full game. We'll play around with that just to get the guys to get a chance to play against someone else rather than themselves," he said.
"I'm not a scrimmage coach so we're not gonna be here scrimmaging a lot. We'll be doing a lot of halfcourt stuff. We're not gonna exhaust the guys. This is the third conference, it's been a long year already. That's why all the injuries are showing up. This is the hardest conference to get through injury-wise. This is where guys start dropping like flies so we're gonna try to keep everybody healthy."