It looks like the Gilas team that will play in the third window of FIBA Asia Cup qualifier in February would be a mix of professional and cadets.
This became a big possibility as cage officials started to entertain the idea of importing players from the pro league in their bid to bolster the Philippines’ chances of getting past in the group stage elimination patterned by FIBA before FIFA’s own approach to encourage all nations to play.
If and when people in charge of assembling the best possible Gilas team are to include professional players, who in the current active players in the PBA would be tapped to reinforce the Gilas cadet team?
“We are planning and obviously we have to talk to all of our partners that are involved in the basketball landscape, my good friends at the PBA, SBP, our bosses and all of the college teams too,” said former Gilas coach Tab Baldwin, who is now Gilas project director.
Some of the cadets are still in college, and Baldwin said their availability would be a concern also since they are not sure of when will the college programs start next year.
“We don’t know when the college programs will be by the start of January so there's a lot that has to be done but I think we've already seen Boss’ (Al Panlilio’s) comments in the media that we probably be looking at bringing PBA players back into the mix,” said Baldwin.
One thing that’s also nagging the minds of the coaching staff is whether cadet players would peak just in time for the tournament.
“Lahat sila (cadets) very impressive but you have also had to two ways of thinking that. ‘Yung ready today and maybe ready tomorrow.’ Kailangan balansehin,” said Jong Uichico. “May mga ready today like Juan GDL, Dwight Ramos, and Matt Nieto.”
"May mga ready rin tomorrow for example, examples lang naman to, sina Justine Baltazar, Kmark Carino, maybe Isaac Go, just because they have size, and si Calvin Oftana, may size at length.Maybe they might be ready for tomorrow," added Uichico.
As for the PBA side, the league has already made good its intention to help Gilas by having its opening for the 46th season in March, right after the window which is likely to happen also in the Clark bubble, the site of the PBA Philippine Cup that’s about to come to a close —successfully.
“Sinabihan kami ni Pres. (Al) Panlilio na puwedeng gumamit PBA players. Pinapayagan naman (ng PBA board), kaya inusod na namin hanggang March ‘yung opening,” said PBA commissioner Willie Marcial.
Gilas’ participation was one of the topics discussed during the league board meeting last Thursday which Marcial attended.
Baldwin saw the PBA decision as a welcome development as the coaching staff is now in a frantic move to assemble the best possible team to the window because they are left with a scant two months and half to do the task.
“With the PBA planning a later start date in 2021, there may not be restrictions on what we could do with PBA players but until the bosses sit down and discuss all of that we don't know,” said Baldwin.
Baldwin also cited the possibility of getting Ange Kouname in the team, but that depends largely on whether the naturalization process being undertaken in congress would be finished way ahead of time for the window.
“Certainly, we are hoping to have access to the same pool of players and if we're hoping to have access to the same pool of players and if we can extend that to other players including a possibility of Ange Kouname getting his naturalization, we still don't know if that would be completed by then but that would be great as well,” said Baldwin.
“If all that could happen, I think we can have some different things moving forward in the Feb window,” he added.
Under the FIBA rules, a participating country may use different teams every window.
In the first window, the hazily-assembled all-cadet Gilas team defeated Indonesia right on the Indonesians' own turf. In the second window, Gilas defeated veteran-laden Thailand twice in Bahrain bubble, by an average of 28 points.
That gave the Filipinos a 3-0 slate.
Under tournament format, after three windows, the Top two teams from each group will qualify for the FIBA Asia Cup 2021.
The six third-placed teams will advance to play a final qualifying tournament in February 2021 and the Top four from this tournament will qualify for FIBA Asia Cup 2021.
Gilas' opponent in the third window is South Korea, which, as every basketball expert knows, is a team that’s always aching to beat the Filipinos.
There is no doubt that Gilas would be formidable if veteran players from the pro league who have experience playing internationally would be included.
Some of the possible pros who may be inserted to the national pool are TNT’s RR Pogoy, Ray Parks, and Troy Rosario, sharpshooting Matthew Wright from Phoenix, June Mar Fajardo (San Miguel), Christian Standhardinger, Kiefer Ravena, and CJ Perez.