The 34th William Jones Cup sheduled on August 18-26 in Taiwan is important for the SMART-Gilas Pilipinas national program as the first major competition for the PBA-backed elite pool, a debut of sorts. But the team also knows that the stakes aren’t very high, not at this early stage of its inception.
“We fully expect to do well, and our target is to medal,” said SMART-Gilas coach Chot Reyes. “But having said that, our main priority is to learn – learn about each other, learn each others’ quirks and moves, likes and dislikes, strengths. And also for me to learn about (the players).
“It’s a competition but we’re treating it as a team-building opportunity.”
Leading the lineup are 11 PBA players — Alaska’s LA Tenorio, Sonny Thoss and Mac Baracael, Enrico Villanueva of Ginebra San Miguel, Meralco’s Sol Mercado and Jay-R Reyes, Gary David of GlobalPort, the Rain or Shine duo of Gabe Norwood and Jeff Chan and Talk ‘N Text’s Ranidel De Ocampo and Larry Fonacier — alongside amateurs Garvo Lanete and Matt Rosser. Reinforcing the squad is naturalized center Marcus Douthit.
The Jones Cup field, though, will have its share of challenges for SMART-Gilas, with old familiar foes like Mahram from Iran and the national teams of Jordan and Lebanon, as well as an American team that features former NBA player Josh Powell.
“We have no illusions here,” Reyes said. “We know we’re going to struggle because of our unfamiliarity with each other. And because the other teams are going to come in and play really great defense on us because of their size.
“Like I said, we’re going to find out about ourselves here.”
Last year, SMART-Gilas finished 3rd in the tournament behind a strong showing from the 6-foot-11 Douthit, who is again expected to play a major role for the Philippine squad.
“He’s our anchor. It’s always good to have that big guy down low. He has a huge role to play but how big remains to be seen. That’s part of what we’re going to discover,” said Reyes.
SMART-Gilas will have plenty of offensive weapons surrounding Douthit this year. Many of the pros were selected because of their potential to fit into the dribble-drive offense employed by Reyes and the national squad, and the players have taken to it well.
Reyes praised players like David and Mercado, who have shown the ability to get into the paint and open up looks for the knockdown shooters of the team like Chan, Fonacier and Lanete. He also had good things to say about the big men, who have performed well in practices.
“It’s hard to single out any one guy really. We chose these guys specifically with that offense in mind and everyone is adapting well to it,” said the coach.
Norwood and De Ocampo, two players with previous national team experience, are expected to play leadership roles in the tournament. Both are holdovers from the 2007 national team that was also coached by Reyes. The two will be serving as co-captains in the Jones Cup alongside point guard Tenorio.
They’re aware of the challenges facing them in the tourney, having done their homework in preparation for the tilt. But the team is ready to come in and focus on what’s important for them at the moment – themselves.
“We’re not worried about it. I don’t wanna focus on the other teams. A lot of teams like Jordan, we already know their players. We’re going into games with defensive gameplans but the context is still our defense and not trying to stop opponents,” said Reyes.
“More than the other teams, my focus is on this team.”