Saturday, January 30, 2010

Middle East trip: Part 1

Hello again! It's nice to be writing here again. The past few months have just been so hectic. And thanks to twitter, I can post brief updates from time to time. Two and a half weeks of my first month in 2010 was spent in the Middle East. 4 days in Qatar and 14 days in Dubai.

It was my first time to step on Middle Eastern soil. After traveling for 9 hours, we landed at their international airport at around 5pm (10pm Manila time) and we were welcomed by the Philippine Basketball Association of Qatar. Immediately, we checked in the Retaj Al Rayyan hotel to make it in time for practice at 8pm. I could literally feel my knees and muscles wobbling after the long trip but more so because of the time difference. It was as if we were playing at 1am Manila time.

The hotel was pretty new and quite spacious. Although no free wifi in the rooms, wifi was available for free at the lobby. We would have all our meals in one of the restaurants inside the hotel. Every meal was buffet style, eat-all-you-can. I loved the food there, Persian-Western fusion. We were booked by twos and my roommate was our newest Fil-Am player Marcio Lassiter, who would be my roommate until the end of the entire trip. Marcio played and graduated from Fullerton University in California, which is a NCAA Division 1 school. He plays either position 2 or 3, very athletic player who can handle the ball and shoot from outside. More importantly, he is a hard-nose defender. He blended in quite easily despite being with us for only a month.

The Smart Gilas team was scheduled for back-to-back exhibition games vs the Qatar National team at the Al Gharrafa stadium. Tickets were being sold and to our surprise, the gym was packed with enthusiastic Filipino basketball fans numbering approximately 3000, as compared to about 100 Qatar fans.

The first game was a purely defensive game. Both teams struggled offensively and Smart Gilas came out victorious 46-38. This was the first complete game that Jamal Sampson played for us. He scored only 2 points but grabbed 20 rebounds and changed a lot of shots close to the basket. He was able to neutralize somehow the inside presence of the bulky and athletic big men of Qatar. We were playing without JVee Casio who was nursing some internal injuries that resulted from a dangerous throw-down by Sotto of Alaska in one of our practice games during the holiday season. He would miss the next game as well. RJ Jazul was forced to play the point as backup of Mark Barocca.

In the 2nd game, we lost to Qatar by 8 points in overtime. They came out more physical and aggressive. Their star player #1 scored 24 points and hit 5/5 3 pointers.

It was a wonderful trip to Doha, Qatar to prepare us for the Dubai International tournament. The country has a population of about 1.5M people and approximately 250,000 Filipinos! Amazing! They are extremely wealthy because of their oil and natural gas. Lots of infrastructure and buildings being developed.

Too bad we weren't able to visit any commercial centers or tourist spots because of our very tight schedule. Thanks to all the Qatar-based Pinoys who came to support the team and lost their voices from cheering!! We will see you again in May for the FIBA Asia Champions Cup :)

Soon to follow... our Dubai trip!