I saw the future and it looks great. Last Tuesday I had a chance to visit the Gilas practice gearing up for the coming Jones Cup. National coach Chot Reyes has assembled an estimable crew of the very best young players in the country, made up of rookie or sophomore pros as well as the biggest names outside the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). They looked so impressive it made me excited about the country’s chances in international jousts in the near future.
While Gilas has the PBA stars ready for battle in major competitions like the Asian Championships, this young blood in the program looks so promising that perhaps the future of the National squad is in good hands.
With the exception of a dominant center, the young Gilas band is deep in all other positions, and possesses outstanding basketball skills. They are also good sized, athletic and quick. I loved the intensity of their practices, with all the physicalityand all-out effort from everybody. And even with just a few training sessions, this Jones Cup-bound team went 3-0 in tune-up games against import-reinforced PBA squads NLEX, Blackwater and Alaska. And I’m not surprised at all.
The young pros are Jio Jalalon, Mac Belo, RR Pogoy, Ed Daquioag, Fonso Gotladera, Matthew Wright, Mike Tolomia, Von Pessumal, Carl Bryan Cruz and Kevin Ferrer, while the non-PBA campaigners but equally talented members are Kiefer Ravena, Raymar Jose, Almond Vosotros, Filipino-German Christian Standhardinger, and US NCAA D1 rookie Kobe Paras. Talk N’ Text back-up import Mike Myers will reinforce the team in Taiwan. Jalalon, Ravena, Daquioag and Vosotros provide a sterling backcourt, while Ferrer, Wright, Cruz, Standhardinger, Pessumal and Paras offer exquisite firepower from the outside. Jose, Belo and Gotladera will be the main sources of inside strength.
Aside from this stacked roster, there’s also Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. in the pool but unable to suit up in the Jones Cup. Add to this list other young pros that won’t make the trip to Taipei but remain part of the pool, like Troy Rosario and Commissioner’s Cup standout Baser Amer. All that’s needed now is perhaps one dominant center, perhaps a younger naturalized player, to bolster this line-up. This truly makes for an auspicious future for the National Program.
This reminds me of the pioneering Gilas 1 batch, where I was one of the deputies of Rajko Toroman. We also had back then some of the best young stars in the country, mostly fresh out of college ball, like Javee Casio, Chris Tiu, Mark Barroca, Dylan Ababou, Mac Baracael, Greg Slaughter and Aldrech Ramos. Later on, US-based players like Japeth Aguilar, Marcio Lassiter and Chris Lutz joined in. But at the time, there were other prospects that opted to jump to the pros immediately like Paul Lee, Ogie Menor and Rico Maierhofer, while June Mar Fajardo stayed in the Cebu-based CESAFI league. During that time too, there was no agreement yet between the PBA and the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) to use pros in the National Team. Under a three-year program, Gilas 1 managed to improve the Philippines’ standing in the FIBA Asia Cup from eighth place in 2009 to fourth in 2011.
With all the achievements of the Gilas Program, from 2009 to present, I do believe the best is yet to come. Reyes and Team Manager Butch Antonio are finding ways to keep the pool together and have as many practices as possible to be better equipped for the more important competitions. But the hectic PBA schedule somehow limits the availability of the pros in the Gilas pool. This is why they’re also always in the lookout for other promising prospects in the amateur ranks. Perhaps the SBP can form a pool similar with Gilas 1 that keeps a solid young core together for a minimum three years, starting with Ravena, Parks, Standhardinger and Paras.
Other Asian countries have also boosted their programs, injecting young blood into their rosters. This is why it’s imperative for our own program to have these young Gilas pool intact for the next three years. Or at least to negotiate with the PBA for them to have a more regular training schedule with Gilas.