Kai Sotto to leave Philippines, train overseas to chase NBA dream

It’s official: Kai Sotto will be leaving the Philippines to focus solely on pursuing his NBA dreams.

In an Instagram post on Monday, the 16-year-old wunderkind announced his decision to head overseas for training.

“Nakapag-decide na po ako at ang pamilya ko. I’ll be leaving soon to start training full-time. I want to devote the next two to three years to single-mindedly focus on my goal of joining the NBA by 2021 or 2022,” he wrote.

The 7-foot-2 Sotto played in Ateneo for two years and led the school to two Finals appearances, including a title run in Season 80 of the UAAP Juniors.

He also pushed the Blue Eaglets to a runner-up finish in this year’s tournament while nabbing the Juniors MVP award.

Kai Sotto (Photo from Chooks-to-Go)

Sotto has yet to reveal where he’ll go through Europe to get to the NBA, but he said that he and his family will continue striving to get to where they want to be in the end.

RELATED – Where should Kai go? A closer look at European clubs interested in Sotto

“After a lot of effort by me and my dad to assess all the opportunities presented to me, I strongly feel, with his advice and the advice of other experienced mentors, that leaving immediately to start training and getting the right exposure will go a long way to help me realize my dream,” he said.

“Pinagisipan ko po ito ng mabuti. I will train very hard and sacrifice and focus in the next few years so that one day soon, you will be very proud of me,” Sotto added. “Para po ito sa future ko, ng pamilya ko, and especially po para sa Batang Gilas, Gilas Pilipinas at higit sa lahat, para sa bayan!”

Sotto played his last game for Ateneo last March 20, where the Blue Eaglets fell to the Jalen Green-led FilAm Sports USA, 67-90, in 2019 Chooks-to-Go NBTC League National Finals – Supreme 16. He posted 24 point and eight boards in the loss.

RELATED – The path to the NBA: Crossroads for Kai Sotto

RELATED – A giant leap of faith for Kai Sotto

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Chot Reyes likes Gilas Pilipinas’ chances vs. Angola, Italy, but says intensive build-up crucial

Chot Reyes is ‘very optimistic’ about Gilas Pilipinas’ chances of stealing a game or two against its Group D foes in the FIBA World Cup come August.

Reyes, who coached the national team back in 2014 to its first win on the world stage in 40 years, sees the stars aligning for the Philippines, which is grouped with European powers Serbia and Italy and African contenders Angola.

RELATED – Standing in Gilas Pilipinas’ way: With or without NBA stars, Serbia still Group D favorites

The optimism mostly stems from the fact that that there’s only one team in the group — world No. 4 Serbia — seeded within the top 10 of the FIBA rankings this time around.

“Although they’re a very strong team, I think Angola is beatable the way we were able to defeat Senegal before. Italy will be tough, but I don’t think they’re as strong as Argentina or Greece. I think may chance tayo diyan,” he explained.

The Serbians are expected to give Gilas an incredibly difficult time right from the opening tip, but Reyes thinks an upset might still be within the realm of possibility given that the 2014 Philippine quintet took another Euro powerhouse in Croatia to overtime before losing.

“Serbia admittedly will be very very tough. If Italy is tough, Serbia is very very tough. Parang Croatia naman yan dati sa atin. But then ‘yung Croatia we took them to overtime. ‘Di mo talaga masasabi eh,” Reyes added.

However, Reyes said that it would all boil down to the level of preparation that coach Yeng Guiao and the rest of the team will be afforded four months before the World Cup proper.

Chot Reyes (photo from Eros Villanueva)

In 2014, Gilas was able to play in a pocket tournament in Europe during their own build-up. While they lost a slew of games to France, Ukraine, Australia, Venezuela and Dominican Rebublic, the team was able to familiarize themselves with how their non-Asian counterparts carried themselves on the floor.

Reyes hopes that Guiao gets to have that same opportunity for his boys.

“Kasi nung nag-pocket tournament kami, when we played France, dinikitan kami until the last quater pero the next day binugbog kami ng Ukraine, and then binugbog kami ng Australia. Pero it was fine because na-feel namin na binugbog kami. But when we got to down to Madrid and Gudalajara, sinabayan naman namin ‘yung [Argentina], [Puerto Rico], all those strong teams,” Reyes explained.

“Talo pa rin, pero at least sumasabay, nafe-feel ng players gumagaling sila, lumalakas sila, nakakasabay,” he continued. “And I think that feeling spilled over sa actual World Cup. So nung pagdating nung actual laban, the players had a very good feeling about themselves.”

“It’s very important for this team to get that same feeling going into the competition. They should have a good feeling about gemselves that they can compete with anybody, with those teams we’re playing against.”

RELATED – Standing in Gilas Pilipinas’ way: Angola won’t be a walk in the park

A few things that could help make Gilas’ road a tad easier will be the new format that FIBA introduced in the showpiece. After all, lighter schedules and less opponents mean more rest and a better shot at advancing to the next round.

“Ang ganda ng schedule natin ngayon eh. Laro, pahinga. Laro, pahinga, laro, pahinga. Unlike before, every day may laro so mabubugbog talaga tayo. So that’s another positive for Gilas,” Reyes noted.

“‘Yun pa, we’re benefiting from better format now. Parang two wins lang to get through the next round. That’s why I think there’s a big possibility that we get those two wins. Like I said, I’m very optimistic.”

Overall, Reyes gives Guiao’s Gilas a better chance at going further in the tournament with a lot of factors working for them.

“We have proven before that we can compete and that there’s no reason with this team now, with the players that we have, with coach Yeng’s system, with Andray Blatche in shape, there’s no reason for us to improve on that previous one win in 2014. I think if we get to two wins, that might be enough to get us into the next round,” Reyes said.

The Philippines will start its World Cup campaign against Italy on August 31 in Foshan, China.

RELATED – Standing in Gilas Pilipinas’ Way: Could Gallinari, Belinelli offset Italy’s thin frontline?

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Gilas Pilipinas to clash against Serbia, Italy, Angola in FIBA World Cup

Gilas Pilipinas will have their work cut out for them after getting pooled with three powerhouses in Group D as the draw for the FIBA World Cup concluded earlier at the Shenzhen Bay Arena in China.

The draw, which was attended by NBA legends Kobe Bryant and Yao Ming, saw the Philippines get grouped with European favorites Serbia and Italy, as well as perennial FIBA Africa champions Angola.

Group D will play in Foshan in the World Cup staging on August 16 to September 31.

Italy, ranked 13th in the world, may banner Los Angeles Clippers forward Danilo Gallinari and San Antonio Spurs three-point specialist Marco Bellinelli.

RELATED -Meet the FIBA World Cup teams: Europe out to dish some serious damage

Danilo Gallinari (Photo from FIBA)

Meanwhile, world No. 4 Serbia could possibly trot a formidable lineup with Denver Nuggets All-Star center Nikola Jokic, Sacramento Kings teammates Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nemanja Bjelica, and 7-foot-3 giant Boban Marjanovic in the fold come tournament time.

RELATED – Meet the FIBA World Cup teams: USA, Spain and the top seeds

Nikola Jokic (Photo from FIBA)

Angola won’t be a cakewalk for Gilas Pilipinas too as they’ve emerged as champions from Africa 11 times from 1989 to 2017.

RELATED – Meet the FIBA World Cup Teams: Don’t underestimate Africa

32 nations will compete in eight groups, with only two of four teams from each group advancing to the next round.

Here are the other groupings:

Group A
1. Ivory Coast
2. Poland
3. Venezuela
4. China

Group B
1. Russia
2. Argentina
3. Korea
4. Nigeria

Group C
1. Spain
2. Iran
3. Puerto Rico
4. Tunisia

Group D
1. Angola
2. Philippines
3. Italy
4. Serbia

Group E
1. Turkey
2. Czech Republic
3. USA
4. Japan

Group F
1. Greece
2. New Zealand
3. Brazil
4. Montenegro

Group G
1. Dominican Republic
2. France
3. Germany
4. Jordan

Group H
1. Canada
2. Senegal
3. Lithuania
4. Australia

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WATCH: MMA legend Demetrious Johnson opens up about historic move to ONE Championship

Former UFC flyweight superstar Demetrious Johnson is set to make his debut at ONE Championship when he takes on Yuya Wakamatsu in the World Grand Prix later this month.

This will mark another chapter in a colorful career that has earned Johnson (27-3-1) the tag of being one of the best pound for-pound fighters in the history of mixed martial arts.

His road before getting to ONE and UFC, however, seems like a part of a book that has rarely been read.

In a sit-down interview with FOX Sports Asia, Johnson talks about how he started getting into MMA, his wrestling background, and early career losses and setbacks. The 32-year-old also discussed UFC’s move to dissolve the flyweight division and how sports fans shouldn’t see ONE FC as ‘the lesser road’ in professional MMA.

MMA legend Demetrious Johnson opens up about his historic move to Asia with One Championship

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Gilas Pilipinas clinches FIBA World Cup berth after routing Kazakhstan, getting help from Korea

The Philippines will be heading back to the FIBA World Cup.

Gilas Pilipinas booked its ticket to China this September after taking down Kazakhstan, 93-75, in their final game of the Asian Qualifiers at the Saryarka Velodrome in Astana.

Andray Blatche put up his finest performance in Philippine uniform after tallying 41 points, 14 rebounds, four rebounds and two blocks to lead the Filipinos into their second straight World Cup action.

Gilas was also assured of that spot after getting a huge lift from Korea, who overcame an early double-digit deficit to beat Lebanon on the road, 84-72. This meant that the Philippines finished as the best fourth-placer in both Group E and Group F with a 7-5 win-loss record.

Blatche looked eager to put away the hosts early on after knocking down five treys and scoring 17 points in the first quarter, but Gilas had a bit of trouble in the second period as turnovers and little production outside the big man helped the Kazakhs take a 39-36 lead with 2:30 left in the first half.

A 15-1 run spanning from the latter part of the second quarter until the eight-minute mark of the third canto later turned the tides in the Philippines favor for a 51-40 lead. With Blatche later picking up his fourth personal foul midway through the period, Jayson Castro then rattled off a personal 8-0 run, including two straight triples, to put the Nationals up by 15, 70-55.

They would never relinquish the lead until the final buzzer.

Castro finished with 15 points, while June Mar Fajardo provided stellar minutes in the third and fourth quarters and ended up with nine points and seven rebounds. Marcio Lassiter and Paul Lee, meanwhile, both had eight points and two threes apiece.

Kazakhstan, on the other hand, was led by newly-naturalized guard Anthony Clemmons, who finished with 27 points, nine assists, four rebounds and four steals.

Gilas Pilipinas will join hosts China, Australia, Korea, New Zealand, Japan, Iran and Jordan in the 32-team showpiece.

THE SCORES

Philippines (93) – Blatche 41, Castro 15, Fajardo 9, Lee 8, Lassiter 8, Rosario 4, Aguilar 4, Pogoy 2, Barroca 2, Norwood 0, Ravena 0, Erram 0.

Kazakhstan (75) – Clemmons 27, Gavrilov 12, Yergali 11, Zhigulin 8, Murzagaliyev 8, Maidekin 4, Bazhin 3, Bykov 2, Kuanov 0, Aitkali 0.

Quarters: 22-21, 45-40, 71-60, 93-75.

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LIVE: FIBA World Cup 2019 Qualifiers Philippines vs Kazakhstan — updates, scores, results, watch live

The Philippines’ hopes of making it to the FIBA World Cup could boil down to whether or not they topple Kazakhstan in their final assignment in the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers tonight at the Saryarka Velodrome in Astana.

Their fate doesn’t entirely depend on their own hands anymore, but the national team could do itself a huge favor by letting one of the pieces fall their way on the road.

RELATED: Gilas Pilipinas needs luck and the heavens

Gilas Pilipinas currently holds the fourth spot in Group F with a 6-5 win-loss card, which means that there is no situation wherein they can make the top three. The only way that they can book that World Cup ticket now is if they finish as the best fourth placer in Groups E and F.

Beating Kazakhstan is the first step towards that goal. However, they’ll be needing a bit of luck and help from Korea and New Zealand, who will have to beat Lebanon and Jordan—the two other teams who are tied at 6-5 with the Philippines in Group E.

RELATED: The impact that Gilas Pilipinas vs. Kazakhstan is bound to create

Andray Blatche, who nearly tallied a triple-double (17 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) in his first game back with Gilas, is expected to spearhead the offense again with Jayson Castro, Mark Barroca, Paul Lee, Marcio Lassiter, Troy Rosario, Gabe Norwood, Poy Erram, Thirdy Ravena and June Mar Fajardo flanking him all the way.

Roger Pogoy will also be making his return to the national team after fully serving his suspension and will replace Scottie Thompson in the lineup.

RELATED: Team Pilipinas eyeing tuneups vs. Alab, Middle Eastern teams to help in sixth window camp

Kazakhstan, on the other hand, is just looking to spoil the Philippines’ chances.

An ‘upset’ is within the realm of possibility for the hosts, who were already eliminated from World Cup contention a while back. Their ability to beat Gilas is belied by their lackluster record (4-7), but one notable fact is that this is the same team that beat the Philippines on its home floor last November 30 at the Mall of Asia Arena.

That experience, coupled with sub-zero temperatures and a crowd that is expected to be rowdy, surely makes this must-win situation an even tougher task for the Filipinos.

Tip-off will be at 8:30pm there (10:30 p.m, Manila time). Pre-show begins at 10:00 p.m in Manila on ESPN5 or via live stream on espn5.com and on their YouTube channel.

You can also follow real-time updates of the game on FOX Sports Philippines’ live blog.

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FIBA World Cup 2019 Qualifiers: Philippines vs Kazakhstan: Schedule, live stream, where to watch, teams, scores, updates

The Philippines’ hopes of making it to the FIBA World Cup could boil down to whether or not they topple Kazakhstan in their final assignment in the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers tonight at the Saryarka Velodrome in Astana.

Their fate doesn’t entirely depend on their own hands anymore, but the national team could do itself a huge favor by letting one of the pieces fall their way on the road.

RELATED: Gilas Pilipinas needs luck and the heavens

Gilas Pilipinas currently holds the fourth spot in Group F with a 6-5 win-loss card, which means that there is no situation wherein they can make the top three. The only way that they can book that World Cup ticket now is if they finish as the best fourth placer in Groups E and F.

Beating Kazakhstan is the first step towards that goal. However, they’ll be needing a bit of luck and help from Korea and New Zealand, who will have to beat Lebanon and Jordan—the two other teams who are tied at 6-5 with the Philippines in Group E.

RELATED: The impact that Gilas Pilipinas vs. Kazakhstan is bound to create

Andray Blatche, who nearly tallied a triple-double (17 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) in his first game back with Gilas, is expected to spearhead the offense again with Jayson Castro, Mark Barroca, Paul Lee, Marcio Lassiter, Troy Rosario, Gabe Norwood, Poy Erram, Thirdy Ravena and June Mar Fajardo flanking him all the way.

Roger Pogoy will also be making his return to the national team after fully serving his suspension and will replace Scottie Thompson in the lineup.

RELATED: Team Pilipinas eyeing tuneups vs. Alab, Middle Eastern teams to help in sixth window camp

Kazakhstan, on the other hand, is just looking to spoil the Philippines’ chances.

An ‘upset’ is within the realm of possibility for the hosts, who were already eliminated from World Cup contention a while back. Their ability to beat Gilas is belied by their lackluster record (4-7), but one notable fact is that this is the same team that beat the Philippines on its home floor last November 30 at the Mall of Asia Arena.

That experience, coupled with sub-zero temperatures and a crowd that is expected to be rowdy, surely makes this must-win situation an even tougher task for the Filipinos.

When and where you can watch it:

Tip-off will be at 8:30pm there (10:30 p.m, Manila time).

Pre-show begins at 10:00 p.m in Manila on ESPN5 or via live stream on espn5.com and on their YouTube channel.

You can also follow real-time updates of the game on FOX Sports Philippines’ live blog.

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Troy Rosario to return to TNT, battle for Gilas slot as full recovery nears

Troy Rosario might finally suit up in one of TNT’s games next week after getting the go-signal from team doctors to participate in full-contact action.

Rosario, who sustained a broken nose in one of the KaTropa’s preseason games, bared that he’s been cleared for a while now, but the team told him to sit out for another week to make sure that the injury heals extensively.

“Matagal na ko binigyan ng clearance. Sabi lang ng mga coaches na ipahinga lang at least one week pa kasi mas maganda ‘yung fully-healed ‘yung ilong kaysa tamaan ulit,” he said.

“Next week, laro na ko sa PBA,” he added.

Team Pilipinas head coach Yeng Guiao supports Rosario’s decision and even told the forward to sit out TNT’s game against NLEX later today.

”Nag-iisip siya maglaro on Wednesday against us, pero sabi ko huwag na siya maglaro against us. Pahinga na lang siya, baka magka-problema pa siya sa national team,” Guiao laughed.

“Maglaro siya sa Gilas, huwag lang sa Wednesday. Okay lang sa’kin. We just wanna be 100 percent sure, ayaw namin na alanganin.”

Rosario admitted that he still has ways to go to reach peak form, but he’s pretty confident that he’ll be fit enough to fight for a spot in Team Pilipinas’ final 12-man lineup for the sixth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.

“‘Yung conditioning, nakasalalay na sa mother teams ‘yun kasi may practices kami doon. Makakahabol naman, if ever,” Rosario said.

“Nasa pool naman ako, so if ever na maging okay na ‘yung conditioning ko, ‘di naman problema sa’kin ‘yun kasi sa isang linggo kaya ko naman ma-condition eh.”

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8 years after last Gilas stint, Barroca eager to prove he can still go toe-to-toe with Asia’s best

Mark Barroca never really expected to return to international play after suiting up for what he thought was the last time back in 2011 with Gilas 1.0.

So when he was named to head coach Yeng Guiao’s 14-man pool for the sixth and final window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, he was expectedly ecstatic.

“‘Di ko inexpect na makukuha ako rito, pero kinuha nila ako. Sobrang saya ko. Tine-treasure ko ‘yung pagkuha nila sa’kin. Napa-pump ako eh na kinuha nila ako. First day pa lang na sinabi nilang may ensayo agad, handa agad ako,” Barroca said Monday during the team’s first practice at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig.

Barroca may have the chance to play alongside established PBA stars for the first time in a competitive, high-stakes setup—a situation that he only got a taste of during PBA All-Star exhibitions.

This excited the reigning Governors’ Cup Finals MVP, who last helped a collegiate-laden Philippine core to a fourth-place finish in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championships in Wuhan, China.

“Sobrang excited kasi nakakasama ko lang ‘tong mga ‘to kapag All-Star games. Pero eto, iba labanan dito sa international. ‘Yung pride ilalaban mo dito,” he said.

“Dati kasi, mga bata kami. Collegiate kami. Mas experienced mga teammates ko, mga professional. ‘Yun ‘yung maganda na makakatulong talaga,” he added.

Of course, the 32-year-old guard also wants to show everyone that he still has what it takes to go up against the best guards in all of Asia as they brace for their must-win games against Qatar and Kazakhstan in February.

“‘Yung feel ko sa international play, andun pa rin eh. Pero ang sa’kin lang naman, makatulong lang sa team. Kung ano gusto ipagawa sa’kin, ibibigay ko na ‘yung best ko,” he explained.

“Maganda na ‘yung pressured onti. Professional naman tayo eh. ‘Yung mga player, walang room for error. Kung andun kami sa loob, commit lang kami,” Barroca noted.

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Guiao still wants recovering Standhardinger on board despite Blatche’s inclusion

Andray Blatche’s arrival might bump off Christian Standhardinger from Team Pilipinas’ final lineup for the sixth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, but head coach Yeng Guiao wants him around for the duration of their camp nonetheless.

Guiao said Monday that having Standhardinger around is still important since they have yet to determine whether or not Blatche is in proper condition for the Philippines’ must-win games against Qatar and Kazakhstan on February.

“Si Christian, sinama namin sa lineup. Insurance namin siya kay Blatche, baka dumating si Blatche ng out of shape, ng masyadong late. Christian can always step in,” he explained.

Standhardinger earlier said that his status for the Philippines’ upcoming games is questionable due to a nagging knee injury that he’s been nursing for a while now, but he didn’t really rule himself out of action completely.

This gives Guiao hope that he could still convince the San Miguel center to stick with them during their preparations.

“Kasi si Blatche naman, pagdating niya at nakita nating in condition siya, pwede na nating ipahinga si Christian. Si Blatche, we’re trying to get him in by February 1,” he said.

“We invited him, pero ‘di ko pa siya nakakausap. Baka meron ding problema kung 50-50 siya, na kung ‘di niya alam kung kasama siya o hindi, na baka panakip-butas lang siya. Pero I’ll talk to him and try to convince him that it’s worth the sacrifice,” Guiao assured.

Standhardinger and Blatche are both classified as naturalized players under FIBA rules. When the latter served a three-game ban due to last year’s melee against Australia, the Filipino-German big man filled in nicely, averaging 23.5 points, 10 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.0 steals in two games.

Unfortunately, Team Pilipinas lost both of those contests against Iran.

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Team Pilipinas eyeing tuneups vs. Alab, Middle Eastern teams to help in sixth window camp

Team Pilipinas head coach Yeng Guiao revealed that the team is looking at having a tuneup game against Alab Pilipinas to help them prepare for the sixth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.

Although nothing definite has been scheduled so far, Guiao said that Alab, who are currently in the middle of their campaign in the Asean Basketball League (ABL), could aid them in their camp since no PBA team might be available before they leave for Qatar.

“Before we leave, we’ll try to play some tune-up games pero ang naiisip ko lang off the top of my head, naiisip ko na medyo pwedeng laruin at the time is ‘yung Alab kung available sila,” he said after the team’s first practice on Monday.

Guiao also thinks that the import-laden Alab could help them prepare for Qatar and Kazakhstan’s tall lineups given that they are currently reinforced by Renaldo Balkman and PJ Ramos in the ABL.

“Kung PBA team, baka malabo. Pero siguro mas maganda kung may import kasi nasi-simulate ‘yung mga malalaking kalaban natin doon sa Qatar and Kazakhstan,” he added.

Tuneups against Middle Eastern teams are also on Team Pilipinas’ agenda, although they’ll have to select based on a possible opponent’s proximity and political affiliation with Qatar.

“Ang problema namin ‘yung Qatar, may political issues against other Middle East teams so kung nasa (United Arab Emirates) or nasa isang country ka, if we stay there and play there, we might need to go back to Hong Kong again to arrive at Qatar. Kailangan kami mamili ng isang lugar na we can fly straight from that place to Qatar para ‘di naman mabigat sa katawan ‘yung biyahe,” Guiao explained.

On the national team’s radar are teams from Israeli Premiere Basketball League, which is home to seven-time Euroleague title-holders Maccabi Tel Aviv B.C.

“We’re not sure yet who we’ll play, but possibility na siguro ‘yung club teams sa Israel, malalakas ‘yun. I’m not sure ang political relation ng Israel sa Qatar, pero that was also one of the things brought up sa discussion kanina,” he said.

Aside from these preparations against Qatar, Team Pilipinas will also have to brace for their road game at Kazakhstan, where they’ll have to deal with sub-zero temperatures along with an expectedly rowdy home crowd.

“Isa pang pinaghahandaan namin ngayon is ‘yung -20 degree temperature sa Kazakhstan. Baka ibang klaseng experience ‘yun. Ang balita ko pa naman papatayin daw ‘yung heater sa gym. Tapso mag-a-aircon sila, tapos tatapatan tayo ng electric fan sa bench natin. Baka manigas tayo dun,” Guiao joked.

“We’re trying to prepare in terms of extra equipment. ‘Yung pang-ilalim sa uniporme, mga heating pads while they’re on the bench, warm-up clothes. We’re trying to put together a plan just in case masyadong malamig.”

Team Pilipinas will be holding practices twice a week this January, but they’ll ramp it up to three or four when February comes.

Luckily, Guiao will have a complete pool at hand even before the PBA momentarily suspends the Philippine Cup on February 13.

Tinignan namin ‘yung schedule. February 11, wala nang games ‘yung mga nasa pool. Baka 12, we can start everyday practices na kahit ‘di pa tumitigil ‘yung PBA,” he noted.

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Guiao reminds Team Pilipinas about anti-doping policies in first practice for crucial sixth window

Team Pilipinas started its build-up for a must-win sixth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers on Monday at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig.

Only 11 of the head coach Yeng Guiao’s 14-man pool were on hand.

Mark Barroca, who will be making his return to the national team for the first time since 2011, was joined by mainstays Gabe Norwood, June Mar Fajardo and Jayson Castro.

Troy Rosario, who missed the first two games of the PBA Philippine Cup with mother team TNT KaTropa due to a nose injury, was also in attendance, although he was wearing a black protective mask.

RR Pogoy also made his return after serving a five-game ban for his involvement in the Philippines’ brawl against Australia last July.

Joining them were Poy Erram, Marcio Lassiter, and Raymond Almazan.

Almazan and Erram were in street clothes and didn’t join the warmups.

Scottie Thompson and Japeth Aguilar also arrived shortly after the practices wrapped up.

“Humabol silang dalawa, nag-meeting sila with San Miguel,” Guiao said.

Absent were Paul Lee and Christian Standhardinger, as well as Andray Blatche, whom the team wants to be with them on February 1.

Guiao wasn’t too bothered about the incomplete attendance since he only uses the first day as some sort of an orientation for players.

More importantly, the mentor saw Monday as a chance for him to remind his players to exercise caution in their supplemental and dietary intakes in light of Kiefer Ravena’s ongoing 18-month ban.

“Basically it’s an overall orientation of schedules and programs and expectations. As I usually do also sa start ng preparations, we tell them the importance of complying with the requirements, ‘yung sa prohibited na mga substances and drugs, sa doping,” he explained.

“Sabi ko I don’t want to be responsible for them having a problem with the doping situation because I know how hard it is dun sa situation ni Kiefer, both on his person and on his team na mags-suffer ng consequences.”

Team Pilipinas will hold practices twice a week this January.

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Standhardinger happy about Blatche’s return as SMB center’s status for sixth window uncertain

There’s a possibility that Christian Standhardinger might miss Team Pilipinas’ sixth window campaign in the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.

The 6-foot-11 big man, listed as a naturalized player in international play, is non-committal about his status in the Philippines’ two crucial games owing to a knee injury that has kept him from being 100 percent.

“To be honest with you guys, I’m very… As you guys can see my knee is recovering but I have to build strength now,” he bared.

His situation makes naturalized center Andray Blatche’s return more vital. Blatche, who was slapped a three-game suspension for his involvement in last year’s melee vs. Australia, was included by head coach Yeng Guiao in the team’s 14-man pool.

The 32-year-old Syracuse native will be tasked to power a Philippine team that will need to win both of its road games against Qatar (February 21) and Kazakhstan (February 24) to still have a clear shot at making the World Cup.

“I’m so happy that Blatche is now part of the pool because he is great basketball player. He will now carry the torch and he’s gonna do great,” the Filipino-German said.

Standhardinger, along with NorthPort guard Stanley Pringle, filled in for the suspended Blatche in that naturalized player spot. The 2018 PBA first overall pick averaged 23.5 points, 10 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.0 steals in two games, but Team Pilipinas lost both those contests to Iran.

Even without him in the sixth window, he’s confident that the Philippines will do just fine with Blatche manning the middle.

“Blatche is a great basketball player. I don’t have a bad feeling. I’m focusing on my knee and San Miguel now,” he said.

Standhardinger’s not completely ruling himself out, though, as he still gave an assurance that he’ll play if the situation requires it.

“If they need me, everybody knows they can call me up. I play injured or not injured but right now, I’m very happy that they have Blatche and he will carry it,” he added.

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What did Manny Pacquiao say about running for Philippine presidency after the Adrien Broner fight?

Manny Pacquiao continued to downplay any plans of running as the Philippines’ next president after winning in his latest WBA welterweight title defense against Adrien Broner on Sunday (Manila time).

The senator, who scored a lopsided unanimous decision in front of more than 13,000 rowdy fans at the MGM Grand Arena, directly addressed questions from ring announcer Jim Gray about any political plans.

“I don’t have that in my mind right now. I have no plans to run for president. I’m happy serving the people as a senator and in giving honor to the country,” he said.

Despite promises of hanging up his gloves after winning a senatorial seat in 2016, the 40-year-old champion continued to add new chapters into his legendary career. He first beat Jessie Vargas at the same arena before losing to Jeff Horn in Australia a year later while holding office.

Pacquiao then successfully bounced back by flooring Lucas Matthysse last July and by cruising past Broner in a masterclass performance earlier.

After today’s win, he hiked his record to 61 wins against seven losses and two draws.

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