How a visit to the Dead Sea revived Gilas Pilipinas in their FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers campaign

A trip to the Dead Sea just a day before their game against Jordan in the 2023 FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers might have just been a key reason behind a Gilas Pilipinas revival. Carlo Pamintuan

The Dead Sea is referenced several times in biblical scriptures.

The body of water, actually a large salt lake, is supposedly the lowest point of earth. Its salinity allows bathers to be buoyant, even large athletes like basketball players.

And a trip there -- on the eve of their game against Jordan in the 2023 FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers on -- proved beneficial for Gilas Pilipinas.

On Wednesday, instead of practicing, Gilas coach Chot Reyes decided to bring everyone to the Dead Sea as a form of team-building.

Apparently it worked. On Thursday, Philippines pulled off an upset 74-66 win over the Jordanians -- their second on the trot after a disappointing run of four losses in their previous five games.

"I thought our trip to the Dead Sea yesterday was pretty important also," Reyes told Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas' Carlo Pamintuan after Gilas handed hosts Jordan its first home loss in four years.

"An extra shared experience. So when we talked about it last night, everyone said how much they appreciated the experience. I think it manifested itself in the energy or the vibe in the game."

Whereas in previous games where Gilas would start out flat and allow their opponents to take an early lead, they kept in step with Jordan from the get-go before pulling away in the second half. While the excursion helped, Reyes noted his team is finally coming together.

"I think -- No. 1 -- the familiarity (was key to the result). It's not the first time we've come together," he added. "Credit to the guys for being able to run and execute. In the end, just having players like this who know each other and have the ability to execute under duress made the difference. It's pretty important."

Reyes gave a special shoutout to Scottie Thompson, who was forced to play point guard after Chris Newsome and Kiefer Ravena were unable to make the trip. Thompson, the reigning PBA MVP, had a solid all-around 8-13-8 statline while being the primary ball distributor.

"With Scottie, I thought we'll have a point guard who has the size," Reyes said. "He's not going to be overpowered by these 6(-foot-)4, 6-5 point guards who have the size like Freddie Ibrahim today. And he delivered.

"I thought in the first game against Lebanon and even against Saudi Arabia, Scottie was still feeling his way around. But slowly we're seeing what Scottie can do from that position. We've got a lot of guys at the 2 and 3 spots. We really need Scottie at the point."

Thompson said his previous experience playing point with Barangay Ginebra for Tim Cone -- also a member of the national team coaching staff -- helped, explaining: "It wasn't a big adjustment because I also play point with Ginebra.

"It's a big deal that coach Tim is also here. Before we left, coach Chot said Kiefer is out, so 'next man up'. I'm just thankful for the opportunity.

"I wasn't focused on scoring. There were other key players out there. CJ (Perez), (Bobby) Ray (Parks Jr.), Dwight (Ramos)... I didn't want to take away their shots. I just focused on my role as a point guard and give them the ball."

Perez, normally also a shooting guard, was also forced to play the point at times.

"We know for CJ to go out and score you got to get him at the 2 (shooting guard) spot where he is not initiating the offense but really being the scorer," Reyes added.

"But without Kiefer, we needed him to play point and I thought he played admirably as well. I thought the part where we were able to play both of them together, we had a pretty good spurt there. That just shows the versatility of this squad."

Aside from Thompson and Perez, Kai Sotto also played a big role in Gilas' second-half surge. Reyes credits Cone with helping the young big stay focused after an error-filled first half.

"I think that's the value of having good assistants," said the Gilas coach. "When we took Kai out of the game, I specifically told coach Tim to talk to him to be able to tell him exactly why he was being taken out and what we were looking at from him.

"When we reinserted him and he had that turnover again, we took him out again just to be able to deliver that point. And that was a crucial moment because Kai could have just gone into a funk and just lost interest in the second half. We shifted the match-ups a little bit and Kai dominated. I had a talk with him after the game, and that's exactly what we discussed."

The final stop of Gilas' Middle East swing in this fifth window is Jeddah, where they take on Saudi Arabia -- a team they beat by 38 points at home in August but which toppled Jordan on its home court in Window 4.

Thompson is looking forward to the challenge, stressing: "(The plan is to) stick with (the) coach's (Reyes') system. Trust the process. Whatever he asks us to do, we'll do it. This win is big going to Saudi Arabia. Our confidence is high."