THE recent Dubai stint of the RP-Smart Gilas team is just the start of what will be a hectic schedule this year for the Asian Games bound national squad.

Returning from the oil-rich emirate two days ago where they placed third in the tough 21st Dubai International basketball tournament, the Nationals are going to take just a month's breather before plunging back into action by March when they travel to Australia to play a series of games with teams from the National Basketball League (NBL).

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From Down Under, Serbia will be the Nationals next stop where they are scheduled to play some of the local club teams in an attempt to benchmark the squad's development exactly a year after traveling to the same European country for a series of tune up games as well.

By April, the team is off to the US in Las Vegas and Canada in Vancouver to play the Canadian national team in a couple of exhibition games, followed by its campaign in the FIBA-Asia Champions Cup in Doha, Qatar in May.

The Nationals will be back in Manila on June, where arrangements to play the national teams of Iran, New Zealand and either Korea or Japan will be made, before capping their preparation for the Asiad by participating in the annual Jones Cup in Taipei (July), the Stankovic Cup in Lebanon (August) and back to the U.S to battle a select team from the NCAA.

Come November, the RP team is off for the Asiad in Guangzhou, China.

"This is definitely a hectic year for the Smart-Gilas team. In all, we expect to play around 80 international games," bared Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) executive director Noli Eala in the PSA Forum Tuesday at the Shakey's UN Avenue branch.

"All of these trips are fantastic exposures for our national team,” he said.

Handled by Serbian coach Rajko Toroman and headed by team captain Chris Tiu, both of them also appeared in the session presented by Outlast Battery, Pagcor, Accel and Shakey's. The RP squad however, would be competing without the benefit of American reinforcement Jamal Sampson, who may be on his way out with the team following a lackluster showing in the Dubai meet.

Toroman himself expressed disappointment with the way the injury-prone American, cousin of former Houston Rockets star Ralph Sampson, played with the team, stressing what the Smart-Gilas squad needs is a "guy who would play with passion, a guy who would play with intensity and someone who wants to play."