Gilas cadet coach Nash Racela considers host Thailand as the biggest threat to the Nationals when they compete in the 2016 Southeast Asian Basketball Association Cup that gets going on Sunday in Bangkok.
Built around the core of reigning UAAP champion Far Eastern U and boosted by pro cagers Troy Rosario and Almond Vosotros, the Nationals are still expected to have their hands full in the week-long tourney, formerly known as Stankovic Cup, and Racela knows exactly what they have to deal with.
“Thailand will be tough being the host and the players,” he said in a recent interview, referring to the Thais who will parade a veteran-laden crew led by national team mainstay Attaporn Letmalaiporn and several members of ABL team Thailand Slammers.
Add to that, the Thais, according to Racela, are coming off a three-month training camp in the United States, justifying their readiness to vie for the gold medal in the regional cage meet that dangles a pair of tickets for the FIBA Asia Challenge set on September in Iran.
“They have a new coach (Manid Niyomyinde) and I heard they have been training for three months and went to the (United) States. Talagang pinaghandaan nila ito,” said Racela. “Most of their players are batchmates pa ni Ranidel (de Ocampo), so these are veteran players who are playing in the ABL.”
Racela added he has a concrete reason why he is wary of the Thais.
“It’s almost the same team that almost beat us last year sa SEA Games and SEABA when coach Tab (Baldwin) was handling the team. We had three months of preparation then, and we had Marcus Douthit, Kiefer Ravena, and Ray Parks then,” he noted.
Along with the 6-foot-9 Douthit, Racela and Parks, both two-time MVP awardees in the UAAP, won’t be around this time in the Gilas lineup that also features a high school cager in 17-year-old Jonas Tibayan of Chiang Kai Shek.
But Racela remains confident that Gilas cadets, including FEU standouts Mac Belo, Mike Tolomia, Roger Pogoy and University of Santo Tomas Kevin Ferrer, can get the job done despite their limited time to prepare.
“This is a young team. The very definition that I have for them is they’re willing to sacrifice for flag and country. They’ve been informed about the tournament in less than a month and trained right away, they volunteered, practiced almost every day. Even with a three-week preparation that we had, andyan sila willing to sacrifice,” said the Tamaraws mentor.
Also included in Gilas Cadet lineup for the SEABA battle are FEU stalwarts Russel Escoto, Ken Holmqvist, Raymar Jose, Arellano U playmaker Jiovani Jalalon, and former Ateneo gunner Von Pessumal. – By Jerome Lagunzad
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