Without a doubt, the Gilas Pilipinas National Men’s Basketball program just got a shot in the arm after two major developments over the past week were made public – the hosting of the SEABA tournament in Manila in April, which is the qualifier for the FIBA Asia Continental Cup later this year, and the naming of the 26-man Gilas pool through the collaboration of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) and Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). I believe this is the best start for any Gilas program considering that the best available talents were included in the pool this early aside from getting a fresh three-year plan that’s aimed at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup and 2020 Olympics.
Time and talent are on the side of Gilas 5.0 and the SBP is bent on providing all the support it needs, beginning with the hosting of the SEABA, and bidding for future FIBA tournaments. Coach Chot Reyes is clearly the right man for the job in leading the program because of his experience and success in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship and 2014 FIBA World Cup. He piloted the Nationals to the silver in the 2013 Asian championship held here, which catapulted the Philippines to the World championship the next year in Spain. The last time the country joined the world championship was in 1978 when it hosted the games. This is Reyes’ second stint with Gilas as head coach, and third tour of duty overall. He also mentored the Philippine squad in 2005 under the San Miguel Corporation management.
Reyes selected players that are mostly below 30 years old to have them at the peak of their game during the three-year program. The oldest in the pool are veteran Gilas members Jayson Castro and Japeth Aguilar, who are both 30. Castro has been Reyes’ most potent weapon in his Dribble Drive Motion offensive system both at Gilas and Talk N’ Text because of his speed and dribbling prowess. Aguilar, a 6’9” big forward, is highly athletic and versatile, and can play multiple positions at Reyes’ system. This is important because Reyes loves to put different combinations on the floor, depending on match-ups and the kind of pace he wants.
Of course, undeniably the most logical name on the list is 27-year old June Mar Fajardo, the three-time PBA MVP, who at 6’10” is the most dominant local player in the land. Size matters in basketball a lot. 6’11” power forward and naturalized player Andray Blatche remains the team’s main man even as 6’7” Troy Rosario, 6’8” Raymond Almazan, 6’8” Arnold Van Opstal and 6’6” Russel Escoto are also in the pool. At the small forward position, 6’4” Art Dela Cruz, 6’4” Kevin Ferrer, 6’4” Carl Bryan Cruz and 6’3” Roger Pogoy add to a considerably tall frontline.
When it comes to passion and energy, Calvin Abueva is surely the first that comes to mind. The 6’2” PBA All Star is a warrior on the floor, who won’t back down even against bigger opponents. And so is 6’4” forward Mac Belo. The current pool is also heavy in talented guards, like Paul Lee and Terrence Romeo. Add to the mix Jio Jalalon, Matthew Wright, Mike Tolomia and Ed Daquioag. Completing the 26-man cast are Jonathan Grey, Norbert Torres, LA Revilla, Bradwyn Guinto, Von Pessumal and Fonzo Gotladera.
But Reyes also hinted that this pool isn’t carved in stone yet. Possible changes can still be made during the three-year mandate. Ray-ray Parks, Kiefer Ravena and Jeron Teng would be welcome future additions to this group. But what’s important right now is to begin the training process that should trim down the list to a shorter one, perhaps before the SEABA hostilities. The coaching staff will be evaluating the candidates according to how they fit into the kind of squad they (coaches) want to build. Knowing Reyes, I anticipate an up-tempo, full-court pressing, and long-range shooting Gilas unit.
Gilas 5.0 is headed towards the right direction at a time when most Asian and European teams are also rebuilding their national programs by fielding in younger talents. With this new direction, I think the days of fruitless stints in international jousts will be a thing of the past.