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Retooled Cambodia tests Gilas Pilipinas

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF PSC JUSTINE Brownlee and Gilas Pilipinas open their SEA Games campaign on a high note following a 94-49 win over Malaysia.

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Gilas Pilipinas’ bid for redemption will be severely tested when it battles a powerhouse Cambodian squad in the men’s basketball competition of the 32nd Southeast Asian Games on Thursday at the Morodok Techo Elephant Hall 2 here.

Action kicks off at 6 p.m. with both teams marching with high-caliber rosters powered by naturalized players.

Fresh from a 94-49 domination of Malaysia, the Filipinos will be reinforced by three-time Philippine Basketball Association Best Import Justin Brownlee of Barangay Ginebra San Miguel.

Brownlee, who towed the Kings to six PBA titles since coming over in 2016, had a sizzling SEA Games debut with 11 points, four rebounds, two steals and a block for the Filipinos, who are looking to reclaim the glory it lost when they surrendered to Indonesia in the gold medal match of the previous SEA Games in Hanoi last year.

Aside from Brownlee, also making good impression were Brandon Ganuelas-Rosser and college player Mike Phillips, who chipped in significant numbers — and a lot of hustle — during their easy win over the hapless Malaysians.

But beating the host country, which opened its campaign with an 85-60 win over Singapore, will not be easy.

The Cambodians will be powered by six naturalized players, including Darrin Dorsey, Brandon Peterson and Sayeed Pridgett, who beat the Filipinos in the gold medal match of the men’s 3×3 event.

The 35-year-old Dorsey is a well-travelled guard who campaigned in Canada, Latin America and Europe while Peterson is a 6-foot-8 forward who played in various International Basketball Federation club tournaments in Europe, the Basketball Champions League and the West Asia League.

Pridgett, for his part, is the youngest naturalized player at 24 but he is already overflowing with experience after playing for different teams in Greece and the National Basketball Association G League.

Also in the roster are 6-foot-10 Darius Henderson, 6-foot-4 Oscar Lopes and 6-foot-8 Dwayne Morgan with Lebanese-Armenian Harry Savaya as head coach.

Under the SEA Games rules, anybody can play provided that they hold the passport of the country they wish to represent.

“They are a tough team,” Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes said.

“You saw the three guys in the 3×3. They have another three. They have like six naturalized players. They are going to be a handful.”

“We have to be able to adjust and pivot during the game. We have very little knowledge about their games as a team. We have some information as individuals, but as a team, very little. It’s really a matter of how we can adapt. Our adaptability is going to be tested.”

Reyes added that the taraflex playing court, which is being used for volleyball and badminton games, is also a major concern since it gets slippery due to sweat and humidity.

“We shouldn’t be playing on a surface like this. This is the situation that we are dealt with. We just have to embrace and accept it,” Reyes said.

But Gilas’ woes are not limited to inside the court.

On Wednesday, Gilas were forced to look for a training venue after the Cambodian organizers assigned them to practice in an open court under the afternoon sun.

With that, Gilas team manager Butch Antonio had to look for a gym where they can train. With the help of Filipinos based here, Antonio was able to book R&F Gym for their men’s team and the Cambodia Country Club for their women’s squad.

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