Calvin Abueva, Terrence Romeo back in the fray with Gilas Pilipinas set to ring changes for Asian Games

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The new-look Gilas Pilipinas that will compete at the upcoming Asian Games in Hangzhou practiced for the first time on Monday.

The team has three holdovers from the team that placed 24th in the recent FIBA World Cup 2023 -- June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar and Scottie Thompson.

Some familiar faces present at the first practice were Calvin Abueva of Magnolia Hotshots, Terrence Romeo and Mo Tautuaa of San Miguel Beermen, Stanley Pringle of Barangay Ginebra, Calvin Oftana of TNT Tropang Giga, and Chris Newsome of Meralco Bolts.

Meanwhile, Jason Perkins of Phoenix Super LPG is also in line to make his debut for Gilas at 5x5 level, while naturalized players Ange Kouame and Justin Brownlee are also part of the team assembled by newly-installed coach Tim Cone.

Fajardo, Aguilar and Pringle played for Cone on the Gilas team that won gold at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.

Newsome and Oftana were the two last cuts of the World Cup team, Abueva and Romeo were members of Gilas from 2015 to 2018, while Tautuaa most recently represented Philippines at the 2021 SEA Games in Hanoi.

RR Pogoy was at practice but left early and is still dealing with a minor medical issue, according to Cone. The TNT gunner, though, is part of the team, with Pringle serving as alternate.

"Stanley is here as an alternate in case anything happens," Cone explained. "Because he knows the system, he's a logical choice for us.

"He's willing to be here with the idea that he may not make the 12, but at this point he's an alternate. Roger (Pogoy) is the one that's really here on the team, but he's got a medical issue and we hope it clears up by tomorrow (Tuesday) or the next day."

Abueva and Romeo, two of the most popular PBA cagers, are both grateful to be given another chance to wear the Gilas uniform again.

Both were on the ill-fated team that got involved in a brawl with Australia in 2018 during an Asian qualifiers game for the previous World Cup that led to multiple suspensions on both sides. Neither were asked back to Gilas again, until last week when both got a call from San Miguel Corporation sports director Alfrancis Chua.

"It's an honor to be called back, at age 35," a beaming Abueva said after practice. "I always told myself if given another chance I'll give my 110% to the team."

Cone already knows what role Abueva can fill on this Gilas team, explaining: "We don't have that huge energy guy. Calvin's really unique in that perspective.

"He just needs to harness it in the right direction. We've always noticed, when he plays for the national team, he gets locked in and harnessed and he plays extremely well.

"He's always been a great defender, and his transition game is really dynamic. I've always thought that in Asia, Calvin can dominate."

Cone revealed that Abueva was the first player at practice. "Calvin came over and gave me a big hug right when I walked through the door. He was here first. He was the first guy here. He said, 'I'm really thankful that you're giving me another chance on the national team.'"

With Cone also revealing that Abueva was the first player at practice, the Magnolia man's status, for the tournament however is still uncertain.

Cone said they were still appealing the inclusion of both Abueva and Perkins since neither were on the initial list of 60 players submitted by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas in July.

"They're 100% sure to be on the team if they're allowed to be on the team," Cone stated. "They weren't on the original list of 60 that was submitted, so because of Jamie's (Malonzo) and Brandon's (Ganuelas-Rosser) injuries, we're asking for a ruling that we can replace them with Calvin and 'Perk' (Perkins).

"We're not going to know that until maybe Friday or Saturday. So they're willing to practice with us with the opportunity, but if not we're gonna have to look for replacements."

Romeo, whose PBA On Tour stint got off to a hot start but was cut short by a hamstring injury, says he is 100% heathy now and raring to go.

"I'm so happy," Romeo said. "I'm thankful to boss Al (Chua) and coach Tim for giving me another chance to represent the country.

"I don't know how it feels anymore to play on the international level. I'm like a rookie again. My confidence and experience are still there, but just the feeling of wearing a Gilas jersey, it's like being a rookie again."

Cone was impressed by Romeo, who he is coaching for the first time, describing: "He was awesome today. He's really excited.

"He came over and said, 'I'm just so happy to be back, to have another opportunity with the national team'. I think he'll fit really, really well with what we're going to do.

"Terrence is a great breakdown guy, and he's a great spot-up and come-off-screens type of player. So we really think we can use his offensive skills."

This new line-up is a sharp contrast from the World Cup team and undoubtedly has Cone's imprint on it, as he admitted most of the players were his personal choices.

"This is our group. This is what we're going to go with," Cone said. "We really, really keeping our fingers crossed with Jason and Calvin because it's the two positions we don't really have... that 3 (small forward), 4 (power forward) guy.

"And if we can get them, that makes us more versatile because that means we can move Justin around to different positions. Without them we're really guard-heavy or big-heavy.

We don't have the in-between guys. So Calvin and 'Perk' are really important to us.

"We're running different stuff than what we ran with the World Cup team. So I'm good with what we've got and I think we've got a good balance of size, of quickness at the 3 and 4.

"We've got good guards, we've got good shooters in Roger and Terrence and Calvin and Justin. We're pretty well-equipped. We've got some great defenders in 'Perk' and Newsome.

We've got Scottie's all-around play. He's going to probably be a little bit more comfortable in what we do than what he was doing in the World Cup.

And we've got June Mar. June Mar in Asia, man -- (there) aren't many players like June Mar in Asia."