TOKYO - Seven hours before their scheduled match with China Friday in the FIBA-Asia Cup, Smart-Gilas head coach Chot Reyes talked about how the other teams have strengthened their current roster with young players.
"China sent its second team with three seven footers. Japan has a new naturalized player. Iran has some new young players. Nagpalakas ang maraming teams," said Reyes during a breakfast huddle with media men.
Then the conversation turned to PBA players that should have been here.
"Japeth (Aguilar) and Mark (Pingris) would have been perfect for this team," said Reyes who steered Gilas to the Jones Cup championship last month in Taipei.
Reyes said he has invited Aguilar to join, but his former Talk 'N Text player chose to remain in the United States presumably to pursue his dream to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Aguilar, whose contract with TNT has expired, has remained unsigned two weeks before the start of the new PBA season.
"I invited him to play in the Jones Cup, but he declined. Nasa States pa hanggang ngayon," Reyes said.
Standing 6-10, Aguilar was a member of the original Smart-Gilas squad coached by Rajko Toroman and suited up for 52 games with TNT last season, averaging 6.56 points and 4.12 rebounds.
Because of TNT's star-studded line-up, Aguilar saw little action on the court, averaging a little over 15 minutes a game.
Reyes said Aguilar apparently wanted more playing time.
Pingris, on the other hand, was one of four players in Reyes' original wish list that are not members of the squad. The others are Alex Cabagnot and Arwind Santos of Petron and James Yap of San Mig Coffee (formerly B-Meg).
Except for Yap, Reyes said the players called him and explained why they could not join Gilas.
Reyes said he's perplexed why players are shying away from the opportunity to play for flag and country.
"They get to stay in shape, get better because they will be exposed to a different kind of competition, and they get extra income during the offseason. But more than these, they're playing for the Philippines," he said.
Although the current Gilas roster is short of ceiling - Reyes tweeted that they're like a midget squad - the feisty national coach said the players have an abundant supply of courage as shown by their Jones Cup success.
Except for Sol Mercado, all the members of the Jones Cup team are here with the addition of Jared Dillinger of Talk 'N Text.
The newly-married Dillinger brings energy and athleticism to the squad that will again rely on speed and defence to offset its height disadvantage.
The arrival of Sonny Thoss of Alaska Milk Thursday completed the team's roster. The 6-10 reserve center suited up for the Aces against Barako Bull during a tune-up match back home Wednesday.
The 10-nation field is divided into two groups with China and the Philippines heading Group A that includes defending champion Lebanon, Uzbekistan and Macau.
Group B, on the other hand, is composed of Iran, Chinese-Taipei, Qatar, India and host Japan.
The top four performers in each group will advance into the knockout stage next week.
"Whichever team we will face in the quarterfinals will be strong," said Reyes.
Formerly called the Stankovic Cup, the event was launched in 2004 with an eight-team field in Taipei. Qatar won the inaugural at the expense of South Korea. The Philippines finished dead last.
Only five teams showed up for the 2008 edition in Kuwait with Jordan beating Kazakhstan for the championship. The Filipinos did not see action.
The Filipinos returned in 2010 in Beirut, Lebanon, finishing fourth behind Lebanon, Japan and Qatar.
This week marks the first time China is competing in the event.
Following a disappointing 12th place finish in the London Olympics where it lost all five matches, China disbanded its national team and sent home its American coach.