For Smart Gilas II coach Chot Reyes, their participation in the William Jones Cup in Taiwan this weekend marks the official start of the team's honest-to-goodness build-up for the all-important FIBA-Asia Championship next year.
The Nationals will face Jordan right in the opening day on Saturday but Reyes does not care whether last year's FIBA-Asia runner-up will be reinforced again by naturalized Rasheim Wright or not.
"Basically I'm not worried about it. I will be there to learn more about my players," said Reyes, who is tasked - perhaps ordered - to bring the country back to the FIBA World Championship slated in Spain two years from now.
The top three finishers in the FIBA-Asia Championship will be deliciously rewarded with berths to the World Championship. The country, on the other hand, is one of the passionate bidders to host the FIBA-Asia event to give the Nationals the much-needed support.
"The Jones Cup is one of the competition windows for most Asian countries but the real scouting perhaps begins early next year," the former Talk 'N Text drillmaster said. "I will find out the strengths and weaknesses of my players during the tournament."
Reyes said they're now in the final stretch of their preparation for the Jones Cup and he's glad with the way the members of the pool are running their offensive plays as well their defensive transitions when they play against a taller and bulkier squad.
"I saw their energy and enthusiasm to learn from my system and to play not for their pride but for the country. That's very important," said Reyes.
Since the current members of Gilas II are the so-called cream of the crop - if we go by the standard of PBA - Reyes has been telling his boys to "sacrifice".
"They have to sacrifice a lot, they have to sacrifice their playing time, their shots...almost everything. That's the way to become successful," said Reyes.
While Iran has dominated the event the last three years, the presence of the United States will make the title race more interesting.
The last time the country won the event was in 1998 when Tim Cone steered the all-PBA squad led by former MVP winners like Allan Caidic, Alvin Patrimonio, Kenneth Duremdes, Johnny Abarrientos and Vergel Meneses.