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Cone to have just 10 healthy men vs Hong Kong as Fajardo, Edu out

February 21 ------ Only 10 players from Gilas Pilipinas’ long-haul cast will be seeing action in the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) Asia Cup qualifiers this coming Thursday when the National Five finally takes the first step in its four-year quest to return to the Fiba World Cup and Olympic Games. Both young big man AJ Edu and seven-time Philippine Basketball Association Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo are going to be shelved due to injuries, with former skipper Japeth Aguilar coming in as the lone stopgap measure. 


While it’s a bit disappointing not to see this new-look Gilas crew debut at full strength, national coach Tim Cone pointed out that injuries are one of the many hurdles that any basketball program will have to tackle along the way. “You think about it. That’s 6’11” and 6’10” that we won’t have,” he said during the team’s send-off presser on Monday night. “These are the things that happen in any basketball team. You have injuries … and these kinds of things happen all the time. You just have to roll with the punches and continue to deal with [it].” 


Interestingly, such a reality is shared by the hosts whom Gilas battles at Tsuen Wan Sports Centre. The Hongkongers, turns out, have been decimated by injuries, prompting their brain trust to bring in a bevy of unproven replacements. Only three players from the battle-tested Asian Games team led by captain Duncan Reid will join the former Bay Area Dragons standout when they try to give Justin Brownlee and the Filipinos a rude welcome in the 8 p.m. clash. And well aware of the glaring disparity in talent, Hong Kong head coach Yao Yongliang has since been tempering expectations. “The goal of the Hong Kong team this time is to play at home and try to narrow the gap, try to play good games,” he was quoted saying in a report by local outlet ontvSports. 


Gilas landed in the Chinese territory on Tuesday afternoon, raring to cash in on the praises and love showered on them during the free-to-see practice also on Monday night. Cone has hardly talked about Hong Kong—a team the Philippines beat by 51 points in their last encounter—ahead of this tournament. However, he has been specifically wary of Chinese-Taipei whom his charges battle at home on Sunday at PhilSports Arena in Pasig City. 


Strong opponent 

“I’ve been hearing around that we’re such heavy favorites against Taiwan and I’m watching their video and I’m … wow, [that] team is really strong,” he said. “They got good size, they shoot the ball extremely well, they play with pace, and they’ve been together for a long time. They played in the Jones Cup against Rain or Shine, they played in the Asian Games and finished fourth, losing to China in the knockout game. So It’s a team that we’re going to have to reckon with.” 


The Taiwanese are shaping up as the perfect villains in Gilas’ opening act. A triumph over the visitors would be nothing short of symbolic for the Nationals who are embarking on a new dream. “We’re going to need every support we can get because we’re still searching for ourselves. We haven’t found ourselves by any means and we don’t expect to at this point,” Cone said. “This is not an All-Star team, this is a team that we’re going to keep together and it’s going to have its issues. We’re not going to win every game, we’re going to lose a few games along the way, but as long as we compete, as long as we continue to compete for the top spots in these windows and such, then we’ll be learning along the way as we go,” he went on. 



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