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Phl cagers brace for Estonia, Finland friendlies

CHRIS Newsome, June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar and the rest of Gilas Pilipinas buckle down to work shortly after arriving in Tallinn. Photo courtesy of One Sports

Gilas Pilipinas buckled down to work shortly after arriving in the Estonian capital of Tallinn for the European leg of its preparation for the FIBA Basketball World Cup that the country will host from 25 August to 10 September.

Gilas team manager Butch Antonio told Daily Tribune that the players are in high spirits despite a backbreaking 12-hour flight to Istanbul, three-hour layover and another four-hour flight to Tallinn.

In fact, Gilas coach Chot Reyes presided over a light conditioning workout at the Spordiklubi Nord gymnasium just to brush off the jetlag and get the ball rolling.

Among those who took part in the initial training are Philippine Basketball Association players June Mar Fajardo, Scottie Thompson, Japeth Aguilar, CJ Perez, Chris Newsome, Poy Erram and Jamie Malonzo.

Also in attendance were abroad-based cagers like Dwight Ramos, Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena, Rhenz Abando and AJ Edu.

Naturalized player Justin Bronwlee will be flying in from the United States while Ange Kouame will join following his graduation at Ateneo de Manila University on 30 June.

Antonio said they are looking forward to facing Estonia on 26 June and Finland on 28 June.

“We have our first game on the 26th versus Estonia, then we take on Finland on the 28th and then we go to Lithuania. With Lithuania, the schedule is still open, so basically we will mostly train there and get a tune up game later on,” Antonio said, adding that a small group of Filipino fans are expected to watch the games live.

“In Estonia, there’s a Pinoy community and they came from Finland, in Lithuania, those Filipinos based there were mostly seamen.”

Estonia is expected to be led by European League star Maik-Kaliv Kotsar, a 6-foot-10 forward who plays for club team Saski Baskonia in Spain as well as Hugo Toom, a 6-foot-7 swingman who became the team’s most consistent performer when they faced Slovenia and Sweden in the World Cup qualifying events.

Finland, on the other hand, will be spearheaded by National Basketball Association star Lauri Markkanen, the seven-foot forward who was named Most Improved Player in the previous National Basketball Association season.

Although Markkanen, teammate of current Gilas Pilipinas naturalized player Jordan Clarkson at the Utah Jazz, played only four games in the previous windows of the European Qualifiers, he is expected to rejoin Finland now that the NBA season is over.

He is expected to be a major force for Finland as he averaged close to a double-double averages of 23 points and nine rebounds in four games that he played.

Alex Murphy, a 6-foot-9 American-Finnish who played college ball for Duke University and University of Florida, is another solid player for Finland.

Basketball runs in the blood of Murphy as he is the son of former NBA player Jay Murphy and brother of Erik Murphy, who played one season for the Chicago Bulls before seeing action for the Fukushima Firebonds in the Japan B. League.

Kiefer Ravena, who is looking to become part of the World Cup team for the second time, stressed the importance of having these friendly matches.

“Aside from the fact that we have to play together, develop cohesiveness, camaraderie and find ways to really be used to playing with each other, it’s also the experience of playing in world-level competitions,” Ravena, who was part of the team that played in the previous World Cup in China, said.

“Everybody is making strides to prepare for the World Cup.”

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