Thursday night was an unusual night for Gilas Pilipinas at the Meralco Gym in Pasig City. Not only were there just a handful of spectators on the bleachers compared to the days before, but the players in uniform had the lowest turnout since the daily practices started.
Only 12 players took part in Thursday’s hour-long session. And making things more quirky for the evening was the presence of a tall, wide-bodied American who is not even a member of the 25-man national team pool, but was there participating in drills.
As it turned out, it was 6-foot-10 center Greg Smith, Blackwater Elite’s foreign reinforcement in the ongoing Commissioner’s Cup.
Seeing the six-year journeyman out of Vallejo, California working out with the Nationals was puzzling at first. But Blackwater owner Dioceldo Sy, who was also there at the Meralco Gym, cleared all the doubts, saying that it was he who had pitched the idea to Smith.
“I talked to him and he’s very interested,” said Sy. “He fell in love with the Philippines and I told Al [Panlilio] and suggested if I can bring Greg here to see if he can fit to the team.
“He’s very interested [in] being naturalized,” Sy added proudly.
Even Gilas head coach Chot Reyes was left impressed with the way Smith strutted his stuff, raving that the 26-year-old big man was quick to digest the team’s system in just his first-ever workout with them.
“He picked things up very quickly and that’s very typical of players who’ve been to the NBA,” said Reyes.
“But the thing we like about Greg is he’s 26. He’s very young. He’s still got a lot of upside, a lot of potential.”
It was just his maiden session with Gilas, but Smith already feels at home with the team, even claiming that he sees himself as someone who can play fluidly with his fellow cagers.
“It was good. Very productive. I think I fit their system. I think I’ll be a great fit,” said the former NBA player, who had stints with the Houston Rockets, the Dallas Mavericks, and Minnesota Timberwolves.
And as what his boss at Blackwater said, Smith is genuinely interested in becoming a Filipino someday.
“I was surprised first. I gotta take this opportunity, showcase my skills and help these guys out,” he said.
And as his first practice with the Philippine team concluded, Smith now looks forward to playing with the same guys he had a practice with in the near future, as he was all praises towards them.
“It’ll be a blessing to play with these guys. These guys are great and I played against a couple of them and they’re all good. The coaching staff is great. This team is great,” said Smith.
“I’ll be blessed to have a call to come back.”