Preparations have already started for the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup. With still over five years to go, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) and the MVP Group of Companies are already laying the groundwork for a successful staging of the sport’s biggest world stage here in the country. And of course part of the blueprint is putting together a competitive National Team that could measure up with the world’s best cage squads.
Last week, Gilas Piliipinas head coach Chot Reyes revealed his “23 for 2023” list of candidates for the National Team that would be locking horns with the likes of the USA, Spain, Serbia, France and Lithuania in 2023. Sixteen of the 32 qualified teams will be seeing action here in our turf, and then eight teams each in fellow host countries Japan and Indonesia. But the medal games will be staged here, probably at the 55,000-seater Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan. Currently, the Philippines is ranked 31st in the world, just behind Poland, Belgium and New Zealand. Following right after are African powerhouses Nigeria and Angola at 32nd and 33rd respectively, and Montenegro at 34th. As host country, the Philippines automatically gets a slot in 2023.
Going back to Chot’s list, which by the way he made clear is by no means final, the cream of the crop in the current collegiate and high ranks made it there, save for a few other notables. The only player listed below six-feet is Ateneo guard Matt Nieto, who is 5’10”. The other guards in the list are all at least 6’1”, namely NCAA Season 93 heroes Robert Bolick Jr. and CJ Perez, both 6’2”, UP Maroons Paul Desiderio and Juan Gomez de Llano, and Fil-Am Arizona State U sensation Remy Martin. For the wing players, the average height is about 6’4”, with Cal State Northridge incoming rookie Kobe Paras and Letran’s Jeo Ambohot the tallest at 6’6”, followed by Far Eastern U’s Arvin Tolentino (6’5”), San Beda’s Javee Mocon (6’4”), National U’s Joshua Sinclair (6’4”), FEU’s James Tuffin (6’4”), Cal State Fullerton’s Dwight Ramos (6’4”), Ateneo star Thirdy Ravena (6’3”) and NU’s Jay-J Alejandro (6’2”). And then for the big men in 2023, the shortest in the list is 6’6” Will Gozum of Mapua High, who bagged the NCAA Juniors MVP plum last year. Ateneo High’s Kai Sotto is the tallest at 7’2”, followed by 6’11” Fil-Nigerian AJ Edu, 6’9” Kemark Carino of San Beda, 6’8” Issac Go of Ateneo and Troy Rike of Wake Forest University, and 6’7” Carl Tamayo of NU and Abu Tratter of De La Salle U. The list has an average age of 20 years old, with Perez and Tratter the oldest at 24. Sotto and Tamayo are both just 16. Ateneo has the most players in the list with four, followed by San Beda and NU with three each, and FEU, DLSU and UP with two each.
The candidates had their first meeting and workout last Monday at the Meralco gym, which was attended by SBP heads like Chairman Manny V. Pangilinan, President Al Panlilio, Executive Director Sonny Barrios and Deputy Director Bernie Atienza, along with Senator Sonny Angara and Congressman Robbie Puno. The young band joined the present Gilas roster in the two-hour practice, and looked very promising. They were introduced to the basics of the dribble-drive offense that Reyes popularized in the country. UAAP Season 80 stand-out Ricci Rivero, who was not included in the list upon the request of his alma mater DLSU, made a surprise appearance and had a brief chat with Reyes and Team Manager Butch Antonio.
As host team in 2023, we certainly don’t want to disappoint the millions of cheering fans when our team takes on the best of the best in the world championship. In 2014, the Gilas 2.0 of Reyes figured well in the World Cup in Spain, giving Argentina, Greece and Croatia a run for their money before bowing to their taller and heftier opponents. But more importantly, the country tasted sweet victory in that tourney with a heart-pounding win over Senegal. Reyes hopes to do better in 2023, and preparing early is a step to the right direction.