The Gilas Pilipinas basketball team, given the Herculean task of bringing the country back to the world stage, leaves for New Zealand on July 9 for 10 days of intense and demanding training in the lead-up for the FIBA Asia Championship campaign.
"It will be a tiring camp for the team. In the days where there will be no games, we will have twice-a-day practice. For the game days, it will be practice in the morning, game in the evening," said Gilas coach Chot Reyes.
Despite their hectic schedule, Reyes and the rest of the team are not complaining as they are fully aware of their mission.
The top three finishers in the FIBA Asia Championship slated Aug. 1-8 automatically secure a berth in the World Championship in Spain next year.
Playing in the World Championship would be one of the biggest achievements of the Philippines and just being there is worth more than winning a PBA championship, said Gilas coach Chot Reyes, who has eight PBA titles.
"The joy of earning a World Championship berth is more than the joy of winning a PBA championship," he said.
Speaking for the players, team manager Butch Antonio said: "The players are also dedicated to this mission because this is the highest honor they can give to our country. They will not be playing for any team but for our country."
The team will immediately buckle down to training the next day at Napier where they will have a five-day training camp under Tab Baldwin - the same coach who helped make Lebanon and Jordan two of Asia's best teams. Jordan was runner-up to China two years ago.
Antonio, who is also the team manager of Meralco in the PBA, said they scheduled July 12, 13 and 14 as the days they will go up against teams from New Zealand's National Basketball League (NBL).
"We hope to simulate the game conditions that we will encounter in the FIBA Asia Championship. Only 30 days left and we will be facing the biggest challenge of our lives," added Reyes.
On July 16, the Nationals travel to Wellington to face the Wellington Saints, the 2010 and 2011 NBL champion. After the game, they will fly back to Auckland and battle another NBL team the following day.
The highlight of their 10-day trip is their battle with the New Zealand national team, which is ranked No. 18 in the world, on July 18.