Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes FIBA PHOTO

Chot expects Lebanon to show up with new naturalized player

Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes bared that the Philippines could expect a souped-up Lebanon side when the country hosts the Cedars in the sixth and final window for the 2023 Fiba World Cup Asian qualifiers on February 24 at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.

The veteran international coach noted that the Lebanese have a stable of naturalized players, and he expects the Cedars to bring in a new reinforcement heading to their much-awaited collision in Bulacan.

“If I’m not mistaken, they (Cedars) are going to bring in a different naturalized player. That remains to be seen, but that’s just the nature of the international game, that’s why it’s a great challenge for us,” Reyes said during his recent guesting at the Youtube program Playitright TV hosted by veteran sports media personalities Quinito Henson and Dyan Castillejo.

The outspoken Filipino coach said their focus has always been to get better, while noting that facing tough challenges in the Asian qualifiers is always a “test of Gilas’ adaptability and versatility.”

“For us, our main focus on Lebanon is to get better, and make sure we get better today.”

Gilas Pilipinas, then reinforced by NBA star Jordan Clarkson, bowed to Lebanon, 85-81 in the fourth window in Beirut.

The game saw Lebanese star Wael Arajki fire 24 points, including seven of his team’s last nine points in the game to frustrate the Philippine national side in their face off in August 2022.

“If you remember that game, we just got beat by, but I don’t want to call it lucky shot, pero aksidente talaga. We blocked the shot and it was a crucial possession. We blocked the shot of Lebanon and it fell on the hands of Arajki for a last-second three-point shot and that was really the difference maker,” Reyes shared.

Gilas held Lebanon to a 78-78 standoff heading to the dying moments of the tension-filled match. Arajki, the 2022 Fiba Asia Cup MVP, then sank a pair of free throws, before punctuating his heroics with a game-changing, right corner three-point shot off a second chance to put Lebanon on the driver seat, 83-78 with 12 ticks left in the clock. The shot practically sealed Gilas’ doom.

In the fourth window versus Gilas, Lebanon fielded naturalized player Jonathan Arledge, the 6-9 slotman, who played for George Mason in college and later, played professionally in Portugal.

While there’s nothing Gilas can do from that, Reyes said their focus is to simply work on team chemistry via its every Monday training session at the Meralco gym in Ortigas with Barangay Ginebra import and naturalized player Justin Brownlee in tow.

Reyes added that the 34-year-old Brownlee has been meshing well with the members of the Gilas pool considering that the former St. John’s standout has already joined the team’s practice even when the national squad was preparing for the fifth window.

“He’s (Brownlee) been meshing very well because this is not JB’s first time with us. In the previous window, he’s been practicing with us as part of the prep for the fifth window even if he knew he couldn’t play because he was coming to practice,” said Reyes.

Reyes added that he looks forward to seeing Brownlee play alongside Gilas mainstays June Mar Fajardo and CJ Perez of San Miguel. Both players have been the Ginebra reinforcement’s PBA foes for years.

“A lot of things we’re doing here he’s pretty familiar, now he has opportunity to play with guys he never played before like June Mar and CJ Perez. These are the guys he’s playing with for the first time, so it’s important we get these things done,” he added.

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