Before embarking on their first official practice of 2018, members of the Gilas Pilipinas pool — those playing in the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers and the 23 in 2023 pool — assembled for a photo. Many of the kids looked starstruck, their first time to be sharing the court with their basketball heroes, doubling as their kuyas. It was quite a moment. Never has there been that many talented players assembled together on one court.
Manuel V. Pangilinan, the architect of it all for many years as President of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas surveyed it all, as he joined the first practice at the Meralco Gym. Before the photo-op, a huddle was formed, with everyone being introduced to MVP and the rest of the distinguished guests in attendance. MVP couldn’t help but feel proud to see everything unfold. After all, this dream has been more than a decade in the making.
“I’d be lying if I knew what the future was,” MVP shared. “We started in 2006, 2007. At that time, those were bleak days because the Philippines was suspended right on the heels of the sad experience, the poor performance of the Philippine team in Tokushima. The future was not so bright at all.”
Gilas finished in 9th place in the 2007 FIBA Asia Championship. Since that poor finish, the Gilas program has made steady progress, with plenty of highs and unfortunate lows dotting our collective memories. However, one of the biggest constant criticisms that has hounded the program has been the availability of the best talent that can represent the country internationally. The PBA has been so generous in their cooperation with the program, but the reality is that the “one cadet and one player” rule for each PBA team has somewhat limited the squad we can send.
Which brings us to the present. With the Philippines being awarded the honor of co-hosting the 2023 FIBA World Cup alongside Indonesia and Japan, expectations have been raised, as well as hopes that we can field the best possible team to compete with the world’s best. Thus the need for a pool as early as now.
“We have to start somewhere,” Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes bared. “That’s our dream for Philippine basketball for the longest time. Now were starting that with that vision in mind, to have tall players who can still play, run, and shoot at the same time.”
Reyes and the entire coaching staff of Gilas couldn’t hide their excitement at having these young guns all come together with the current stars. It wasn’t a passing of the torch moment. It felt more like Iron Man recruiting Spider-Man to join the Avengers. Youngsters like Isaac Go eagerly watched Jayson Castro’s professionalism, and Japeth Aguilar’s athleticism. Though they may not be on the same level skill-wise today, it’s going to be a far different situation five years from now.
“They’re the benchmark, the role model and I told the kids to take a look at the veterans,” Reyes said. “All of those veterans, bar none, 100 percent of them, when they came through the program, they came out as better players.”
That in itself was the secret benefit of the Gilas program, and one of the biggest reasons why the current pool keeps coming back for more.
“That’s always been my commitment to anyone who joins Gilas,” Reyes added. “I told them there’s no assurance, any guarantee that you’ll make the lineup or represent the country in some competition, but the one thing were sure of is they’ll come out of this program as better players.”
“And no better proof than the veterans,” Reyes continued. “Every single guy you see in the current Gilas pool are playing at a higher level than they were when they came in. That’s a big motivation for the kids coming in.”
Practice was short in their first get-together. In fact, that rainy Monday evening was more about planting seeds that would hopefully grow in the future. It was about seeing investments hopefully payoff in the future. No one knows what the future holds, but Gilas is ready to do its part to help shape its own.
I’m glad that things have changed for the better. And it could not have been done without the help of everybody, every association of the country, the PBA, the collegiate associations, and everybody who’s part of the basketball community.
“Just looking at the cream of Philippine basketball, both the mature ones and the younger ones in one court is simply a sight to behold,” MVP said proudly. “It’s a very heartening experience for me and I’d like to think that the future of Philippine basketball is very bright. So I’m quite optimistic about the future.”