Controversial forward Will Navarro brought positive energy in the first day of practice of Gilas Pilipinas for the fifth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers Monday at the Meralco Gym.
It was business as usual for the 25-year-old Navarro despite getting involved in a contract dispute with Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas after signing with the Seoul Samsung Thunders in the Korean Basketball League.
A ruling by the International Basketball Federation denied Navarro of playing in the KBL with the SBP claiming that he should only play for Gilas Pilipinas and the Philippine Basketball Association team that drafted him in the special draft – NorthPort – as stipulated in his contract that will be effective until March of next year.
But the re-entry of Navarro in the training camp brought in positive vibes while the inclusion of Barangay Ginebra San Miguel import Justin Brownlee and naturalized prospect Angelo Kouame gave the pool a refreshing outlook.
Teams from San Miguel Beer, Barangay Ginebra and TNT Tropang Giga were represented as well as those from other teams like Chris Newsome and Jamie Malonzo.
Interestingly, Malonzo got traded to Ginebra in a blockbuster transaction that was formalized on Tuesday morning.
CJ Perez of San Miguel Beer was also there, but his teammate, six-time PBA Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo, wasn’t able to join as he was under the weather.
Japeth Aguilar also joined the practice while Scottie Thompson was also present but was in street clothes as he was resting his injury.
Arvin Tolentino, who was later shipped to NorthPort as part of the Malonzo deal, was also in attendance as well as Roger Pogoy and new TNT Tropang Giga forward Calvin Oftana.
Francis Lopez was the only other non-PBA player who was in attendance after Carl Tamayo begged off due to conflict in practice schedule with University of the Philippines.
Gilas coach Chot Reyes was pleased with the turnout of their first training session.
“I’m very pleased with the turnout,” Reyes said.
“Unfortunately, June Mar (Fajardo) was sick and he wasn’t able to attend his San Miguel practice. Then, Carl Tamayo, he had a practice with UP until 8 p.m. while Scottie got injured in their practice game, but at least he’s here. I’m really pleased, not only with the turnout, but also the engagement and participation of the players.”
Reyes added that the training is just the start of a long process that aims to develop a strong, fluid squad for the FIBA World Cup next year.
“We have players who are coming in for the first time – CJ Perez and Justin Brownlee,” said Reyes, whose squad will be facing Jordan on 10 November and Saudi Arabia on 13 November.
“The other thing is, you’re seeing the young ones, Ange, Francis Lopez, Will Navarro, because we want to continue that process, whether they make it to the final line up for the window or not, but at least, they’re continuing to be part of the long-term program.”
Gilas stalwarts seeing action in the Japan B. League – Dwight Ramos, Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena and Ray Parks – are expected to join next month.