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The road to this year’s Rio Olympics started for Gilas Pilipinas as practice session formally began with the members of the national team training pool yesterday at the Meralco Gym in Pasig City.
A total of 10 players from the original pool of PBA players took part in the scrimmage conducted by coach Tab Baldwin, who will try to help the Nationals earn an Olympic berth.
The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas secured the rights to host of one of three Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQT) scheduled July 5 to 10 at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena in Pasig City.
The national team is in Group B with New Zealand and France, while in Turkey, Senegal and Canada are in Group A. Only the winner in this OQT will advance in the Olympics this August in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Present in yesterday’s training session are PBA players Ranidel de Ocampo, Terrence Romeo, Marc Pingris, Mo Tautuaa, Troy Rosario, LA Tenorio, Ryan Reyes, Jayson Castro, June Mar Fajardo and Japeth Aguilar.
Former two-time UAAP MVP and Ateneo stalwart Kiefer Ravena and NBA D-League campaigner Bobby Rey-Rey Parks Jr., members of the cadet pool, were also present in the practice session.
Parks recently arrived from the US after his stint with the Texas Legends, a team affiliated with the Dallas Mavericks.
Greg Slaughter, the 7-foot center of Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, showed up but did not participate because of an injury, while San Miguel Beer ace gunner Marcio Lassiter failed to join Day 1 of training session.
The national team pool also includes Paul Lee, Jeffrei Chan and Gabe Norwood of Rain or Shine, as well as Calvin Abueva of Alaska.
The four are expected to join the practice session as soon as they finish their stint in the PBA since their respective teams – the Elasto Painters and the Aces – are playing in the Finals of the Commissioner’s Cup.
Naturalized center Andray Blatche is expected to arrive next week, according to Gilas team manager Butch Antonio, who went to the US to finalize the details of the former NBA standout return to the national team.
This will the third time that the 6-11 Blatche will don the national team colors following his stint in the FIBA World Cup in Spain in 2014 and in last year’s Asian championship in China.
Gilas missed on the gold medal in that FIBA Asia, losing to host China in the championship stage. A victory would have given the national team an outright spot in the Olympics.
The last time a Philippine basketball team played in the Olympics was during the 1972 Munich Games.