Gilas Pilipinas mainstay LA Tenorio rued on Tuesday that the “best guard tandem” of fellow veterans Jayson Castro and Paul Lee won’t materialize when the Nationals see action in the Manila Olympic Qualifying Tournament set from July 5 to 10 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
But the Barangay Ginebra playmaker remains optimistic that the remaining Gilas guards—and their fellow national team members—can rise to the occasion in their bid to realize a long cherished dream of making it back to the Olympics stage.
The 6-foot Lee has already taken himself out for consideration in the Gilas ‘Final 12’ as he tries to recover fully from a recurring left knee injury, leaving the likes of the 5-foot-11 Castro, 5-foot-8 Tenorio, GlobalPort star guard Terrence Romeo and top amateur standout Kiefer Ravena to vie for the guard positions.
Add to that, Lee’s reunion with Castro as Gilas’ dreaded backcourt duo is put on hold, denying the country’s ardent cage fans the chance to see them playing together for the first time since the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain.
And in the eyes of Tenorio, Castro and Lee could thrive well in Baldwin’s FLEX system, a variation of the dribble-drive offense.
“Malaking bagay na nawala si Paul,” stressed Tenorio at the end of Gilas Pilipinas training session at the Meralco gym in Ortigas, Pasig City. “I think aside from Jayson, Paul is the perfect player na fit talaga sa system na ito. I think coach Tab could attest to that, na this system is iikot talaga kay Paul Lee at Jayson.
“Yung dalawang guard ang inaabangan talaga. I think that’s the best guard tandem na makikita sana natin kasi ‘di natin nakita sa FIBA Asia ‘yun.”
But Tenorio is convinced the remaining guards—and players—in the pool have what it takes to help make up for the absence of Lee. “Meron pa namang ibang options and I’m very confident sa mga natirang guards. Kung sino man ang mapapasama sa Final 12 is going to be tough and it’s still going to be a very talented team,” he assured.
“Coach Tab has a plan for that. I’m excited pa rin but sayang because this is not the lineup I’m sure coach Tab is expecting pero wala eh. Kung sino talaga ang nandyan, as long as everyone is healthy, committed, and dedicated, I think wala tayong magiging problema,” Tenorio added.
Although he admitted Lee’s absence is “another setback, stepback” for the Nationals’ preparations ahead of the Manila OQT, Tenorio said he don’t want the former University of the East to take any chances with his injury, adding he can still suit up for the national team in future competitions.
“Sayang talaga na wala siya but he has to do the therapy. ‘Yun ang mga bagay na hindi natin mako-control. Maybe next time, he’s ready for the national team again,” he said of the Elasto Painters guard whom he considers as one of Gilas’ leaders.
“Mapapadali sana sa mga leader dito o datihan kasi pag nagsasama-sama kami ng mga ‘yan, dalawa o tatlong practice, okay na kami. Ganun ka-instinctive na ‘pag nagkampi kami, magkakilala na kami automatic. Niloloko ko nga siya kanina na iniwan niya ako,” Tenorio said with a smile.
Filling up the shoes of Lee should be a collective effort, noted Tenorio.
“Not one or two players na magfi-fill in sa shoes ni Paul Lee. I think everyone should step up. Malaking bagay ang nagagawa niya, he can attack, spot up, dish out, he can defend. Nangyayari talaga ‘yun so we just have to step up,” he said. – By Jerome Lagunzad
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