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BRACING FOR BIG SHOW | Full-forced Gilas use friendlies as ‘dress rehearsal’

GILAS Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes is interested to see how Jordan Clarkson and Kai Sotto will blend with their teammates in the final stretch of their preparation for the FIBA World Cup. FIBA PHOTO

With the biggest stars of the show in Jordan Clarkson and Kai Sotto already on board, the coming friendly matches will gauge how Gilas Pilipinas will perform in the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

Gilas head coach Chot Reyes said he is looking forward to their friendly matches against Ivory Coast, Montenegro and Mexico as he wants to see how Clarkson and Sotto will blend with other members of the national pool.

Clarkson, the prized swingman of the Utah Jazz in the National Basketball Association, has yet to play a game with his Filipino teammates in their preparation for the 32-nation spectacle set to open on 25 August at the Philippine Arena.

He arrived in Manila on 8 August, prompting him to miss their friendly matches in the 2023 Heyuan WUS International Basketball Tournament.

The 7-foot-3 Sotto is also a late inclusion.

Although he has been in the country for more than three weeks, Sotto failed to join the friendly matches in China as he was still nursing a back spasm that he suffered during his final game in the NBA Summer League last July.

Reyes said with Sotto and Clarkson around, their friendlies will serve as a “dress rehearsal” to polish their game plan against powerhouse countries like the Dominican Republic, Italy and Angola in the preliminaries.

“It’s the first time we’re going to play with Kai and Jordan in this group and they have never played in any of the previous tune-up games since we started on 1 June,” Reyes said in a television interview.

“It’s very, very important for us to get these friendlies so we really worked hard to make sure to get these friendlies because this is the dress rehearsal. All the other teams we played were without these two players. We’ll see.”

Gilas will take on Ivory Coast on Friday, Montenegro on Sunday and Mexico on Monday for the final stretch of their World Cup preparation.

All games will be played behind closed doors but Reyes believes that they will pick up a lot of lessons as Ivory Coast plays like the Angolans, Montenegro like the Italians and Mexico like the Dominican Republic.

Reyes added that there’s no assurance that the inclusion of Clarkson, Sotto, and Scottie Thompson, who sat with a finger injury in the final stretch of their Lithuanian camp, will boost Gilas Pilipinas.

“We don’t know. Who knows, things might get worse. It’s not a sure thing they’re going to be for the best,” said Reyes, tempering expectations since Clarkson and Sotto will only play their first game with the squad while Thompson will be coming back a month after being sidelined by a right fractured ring finger.

Whether they would be in game shape or not will be determined more during the friendlies and the last week of Gilas’ preparations.

“That remains to be seen,” added Reyes when asked whether Clarkson or Sotto are now in game shape barely a week before the competition.

“The conditioning at practice is different from the conditioning during actual games.”

“But all the rest of the members of the pool, I’m confident they’re in game shape already. All the training that we’ve been doing and all the games that we’ve played. Players are in that level already. The two guys – Clarkson and Sotto – still have catching up to do. We have barely a week and hopefully, we could get them there, fast track their progress and their level, soon”

He said seeing Thompson returning to practice and joining Clarkson, Sotto and the rest of the Gilas World Cup hopefuls is a welcome development.

“I know Scottie, because his injury was on his hand, never stopped conditioning and running. Kai was a different matter because he couldn’t do too much because of his back problem. We have barely a week to get them in shape,” Reyes added.

But if there’s anything certain, the friendlies against Ivory Coast, Montenegro and Mexico would determine the final composition of the Gilas squad.

“Precisely, this is the best way for us to see to make our final decision,” Reyes said.

Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Al Panlilio said the final roster might be decided right after the friendlies.

The deadline for the submission of the final line up is on 23 August during the team managers’ meeting. Although other countries have already announced their final rosters, Reyes is taking his sweet time, wanting to come up with the right combination of player who will represent the country in this very crucial tournament.

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