MANILA — The Philippine national men’s basketball team starts testing its potential to carry the country’s colors in the coming FIBA Asia Championship when it faces powerhouse Klaipedos Neptunas, opening its six-game tuneup and exhibition series Wednesday at the Svyturio Arena in Klaipeda City in Lithuania.
The 13-player selection comprising the SMART-Gilas Pilipinas training pool arrived in Lithuania’s third largest city late Monday afternoon along with coach Chot Reyes and team manager Butch Antonio following a 20-hour flight from Manila that saw them stop over in Bangkok and Copenhagen.
The pool, made up of Larry Fonacier, Jimmy Alapag, Jason Castro and Ranidel de Ocampo of Talk ‘N Text, Gabe Norwood and Jeff Chan of Rain or Shine, Marc Pingris of San Mig Coffee, June Mar Fajardo of Petron, LA Tenorio of Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, Gary David and Japeth Aguilar of GlobalPort, and naturalized player Marcus Douthit, had the first taste of their 16-dy training camp Tuesday at the Svyturio Arena training facilities.
The still travel-weary Filipinos and the Lithuanians battle at 7 p.m. (12 midnight in the Philippines) with Reyes’ boys merely trying to size up the things in store for them in this trial run of what they will achieve in the camp.
Klaipedons Neptunas ended up third in the recent 2013 Challenge Cup of the Baltic professional league and should give the Filipinos the competition they badly need since they begun practicing two weeks ago.
Its lineup includes Valdas Avsylius, a forward who played collegiate ball at Old Dominion University and a member of the Lithuanian national team in the 2007 University Games.
The team is reinforced by another American-trained player, Rashun Eneal Broadus, a point-guard who saw action in the Brigham Young University in the Unites States NCAA besides spending, too, a few years in the European leagues.
Completing the Klaipedos Neptunas lineup are 6-foot-8 center Vytautas Sarakauskas, shooting guard Marius Runkauskas, Marrinas Maseika, Daviud McLure, Deividas Gailius, Raimundas Danys, Laurynas Mikalaukas, Simas Galdikas, Geidrius Gustas, Arnas Butkevicius and Evaldas Danys. Coach is Marksvytis Kazys.
Reyes expressed high hopes that the Lithuania camp can fill the vacuum left by the delay in the implementation of the training program brought about by injuries to some of the original members of the pool — Kelly Williams, Jared Dillinger and Ryan Reyes of Talk ‘N Text and Sonny Thoss of Alaska.
Depending on how the players respond to the rigors of the camp and their performance in the tuneup games lined up for them, Reyes and Antonio believe the final composition of the Philippine team will be finalized when the delegation heads for home in middle of this month.
Next to test Gilas mettle, according to Antonio, is Kaunas LSU-Baltai which it opposes on June 7. Another matchup against Birstono Jazz Diremta precedes the Philippines’ two-game confrontation versus the Lithuanian Under-20 Selection on June 11 and June 13.
Gilas winds up its six-game goodwill games in a return match with Kaunas LSU-Baltai on June 15, on the eve of their departure back to Manila.
Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Manuel V. Pangilinan and chairman Ricky Vargas wished the pool the best as both expressed hopes that the delegation returns home rich in experience needed to at least finish in the coming August 1-11 FIBA Asia cage war to qualify in the 2014 FIBA World Cup.