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Chito Victolero: Players must deal with both physical, mental aspects of bubble

Over six months since they last played, getting into game shape in time for the 2020 PBA season restart on Oct. 11 is predictably the first order of business for coach Chito Victolero's Magnolia Hotshots.

"At the start, it will be difficult getting into basketball shape because of the limited time given to us. For the players, it's difficult because they couldn't really practice continuously," Victolero told ESPN5.com in Filipino last Wednesday, two days after his team became the first to arrive in the bubble at Quest Hotel in Clark, Pampanga.

Once every team's 25-man delegation is able to clear coronavirus disease tests by Thursday or Friday, the Hotshots and their other counterparts will only have under 10 days at most to whip themselves back into battle-ready condition through scrimmages for the resumption of the Philippine Cup.

That's not nearly enough time for any team, but everyone sees it as a necessary sacrifice.

"Once we start scrimmages, that's the only time we'll be able to start conditioning and finding our timing again. It takes time," he said. "It's not just us, but it's the whole PBA community. We need to sacrifice so we can continue the season, so we can all play basketball again."

But the physical aspect of the preparation is only half the battle, as a greater grind awaits everyone bound within the confines of the bubble for over two months.

"When the time comes that we're physically ready, that all the players are physically ready, the mental aspect is next," said the coach. "We're far away from our families. The normal life isn't for us for the next two months."

It's not exactly something that's lost on the players and coaches. In fact, both the distance and time away from their usual lives have been the focal point of discussion for those trooping to Clark, with a lot more emphasis made on how patently different the bubble environment is to their usual out-of-town games.

"One week before we left, we tried to talk about what we'll expect from the bubble and what's the worst that we can expect here," said Victolero. "And also the mindset. We remind the players that we need to be mentally tough."

Seeing as there is no comparison to the mental toll the bubble could possibly pose on the participants, Victolero said the best course of action is to just lean on each other when days get tough.

"We need to help each other inside the bubble," he said. "We'll just try to help and talk to each other. We'll try to watch each other's backs. I told them we have an obligation to each other. That's what I've been emphasizing to them: we have a responsibility for each other."

Fortunately, the way that the league set up the bubble makes it easier for everyone in it to handle the blues.

"It's a good thing everyone has roommates, someone to talk to. Of course, when they think of their families, it's still going to make them sad. But technology is huge because we can connect with our families through video calls and stuff like that. It's huge," the coach said.

Victolero is hoping the bubble itself keeps them busy to take their mind off of things.

"We'll probably be very busy here because there are games every day. The players and coaches are going to be busy because they're preparing for games and practices," he noted. "That won't really solve the sadness and everything else, but that's going to go a long way in helping us forget we're not with our families here.