After finding gaps in Gilas Pilipinas’ victory over Iran, national coach Chot Reyes this time lauded his charges for a gutsy stand despite fading late against a taller and much more athletic Senegal side on Friday night.
“[I’m] disappointed because we could’ve won the game. But I was also very pleased with our effort, considering that we came from a six-hour bus ride to (get to the venue),” he said on the heels of a 72-64 defeat against the Lions in the 2023 Heyuan WUS International Basketball Tournament.
“We barely got here in time for the game, but I’m really pleased. [Our players] showed tremendous fighting spirit to defend and stay with that team,” he added in a dispatch released by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas on Saturday afternoon.
Aside from the gallant effort at Jiangmen En Ping Sports Gymnasium, Gilas Pilipinas showed a lot of refinement on defense, which should augur well for the national program as it enters the final weeks of its preparations geared towards the Fiba World Cup that the Philippines will be cohosting with Japan and Indonesia starting Aug. 25.
There were also visible improvements among the players. June Mar Fajardo and Rhenz Abando—both big for Gilas Pilipinas during the training camp in Northern Europe—have been steady thus far, while Jamie Malonzo and AJ Edu are now showing more assertiveness in their play.
“I think the kind of defensive effort that we have been working on from Day 1, I think we’re seeing the fruits already. We held Senegal to 70 points so we really like how the defense is coming along,” Reyes said in an interview with Noli Eala on the latter’s radio show also Saturday.
“Admittedly, there is still a lot of work to be done in specific areas but there’s marked improvement,” he added. “The mere fact that AJ can finally play with this group, which he wasn’t able to do in Europe, is already a big step for us.”
Reyes is making sure these developments reach Jordan Clarkson, the NBA star who will serve the team as the team’s naturalized player for the global showcase.
Clarkson is expected to reunite with the Gilas program in Manila around Aug. 8 just in time before the training squad takes on Montenegro and Mexico City for a pair of friendlies in games that could very well provide a glimpse of the team’s final roster.
“We’ve been exchanging ideas. And he’s okay with it. He has accepted it. He knows what we want from him. I think he’s up for the challenge—the way he sounds. And you know when a person really is … engaged,” Reyes said of the Filipino-American guard.
“The good thing is he’s not coming in cold. He’s been with us before, he knows a little bit of what we’re doing already, he knows the guys,” he said.
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