Filling up the void left by injured guard Paul Lee won’t be an easy task for Gilas Pilipinas.
But veteran guard Jayson Castro is confident national team coach Tab Baldwin and the rest of the Nationals will be up to the task ahead of the Manila Olympic Qualifying Tournament set from July 5 to 10 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The 6-foot Lee, 27, formally informed Baldwin on Tuesday that he won’t see action in the Rio de Janeiro Olympic qualifiers due to a lingering left knee injury, dealing another big blow on the Nationals side that already lost Barangay Ginebra center Greg Slaughter and Tropang TNT wingman Matthew Ganuelas-Rosser to respective injuries.
The 5-foot-11 Castro, 29 shared the backcourt chores with Lee during their decent run in the 2014 Basketball World Cup in Spain and he is convinced they will have their hands full in trying to fill up the shoes of the Rain or Shine mainstay, who was named the Finals MVP in the Elasto Painters’ title conquest in the Commissioner’s Cup last week.
“Hindi naman madaling punan,” Castro told sports scribes at the end of their three-hour practice at the Meralco gym in Ortigas, Pasig City. “Pero gagawa at gagawa ng paraan si coach at ibang players na punan ‘yun. Kasi kapag sinabi kong Paul Lee, mahirap palitan yun di ba?”
Without Lee, Baldwin, 58, will now have to make do with Castro, Gilas Pilipinas mainstay and Ginebra playmaker LA Tenorio, GlobalPort star guard Terrence Romeo and former Ateneo superstar Kiefer Ravena, the only amateur player who is religiously attending the national team’s practices.
Aside from Lee’s offensive repertoire, Casto said they will mostly miss his competitive nature—even from their training session.
“Si Paul kapag practice talaga, practice talaga. Kahit may masaktan. ‘Yun ang pagkakaalam ko kay Paul. Gusto niya ‘pag practice parang ‘yung nilalaro na niya talaga,” shared the Tropang TNT star guard.
“Madami kasi ang pwedeng magawa ni Paul. Kita naman natin nu’ng FIBA World (Cup). Talagang outside or inside, kaya niyang iwan,” he added.
While it’s unfortunate to have another top gun on the sidelines, Castro said they have no other choice but to step up collectively.
“Talagang ganun. Kailangan nilang magpahinga. Sabi nga ni coach Tab, kung sino ‘yung mga andito, kailangan pa rin magtrabaho,” he said. “Kasi hindi naman natin sila masisisi na injured sila. Kailangan nilang magpahinga talaga. Pag-iigihan na lang namin ‘yung practice namin.” – By Jerome Lagunzad
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