For the first time ever, there are now two Gilas Pilipinas teams representing the country.
One team is already in Lebanon competing against the continent’s best in the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup. That group consists of PBA superstars and Gilas mainstays. They are established players who have a mighty following not just on home soil, but all around our neighboring countries as well. Names like Jayson Castro, Calvin Abueva, Gabe Norwood, Terrence Romeo, and the like are already embedded in Gilas tradition.
The other Gilas team’s composition is a bit different. They are staple names in the Philippines but they have yet to make their marks in the PBA. All have competed in international play one way or another, but there has always been a distinction from a “Final 12” and a “cadet.”
But circumstances have given us an opportunity to not refer to these young gentlemen as merely “Gilas cadets” anymore. Because of the change in the FIBA calendar, countries must now have at least two national teams ready to compete in the various tournaments. That is why Mike Tolomia, Baser Amer, Kobe Paras, Almond Vosotros, Ray Parks, Von Pessumal, Kevin Ferrer, Raymar Jose, Troy Rosario, and Kiefer Ravena are all headed to Malaysia next week to compete in the Southeast Asian Games.
On Wednesday, it was only the second team practice of the SEA Games-bound group. They have been practicing since Monday and even had a tune-up game against the Ateneo Blue Eagles on Tuesday. They have been training for the past few weeks, but this is the first time they are without the lineup for the FIBA Asia Cup.
“I don’t know if we’re on schedule. It’s been our third day only of being together, without the FIBA Asia [team],” coach Jong Uichico said on Wednesday at the Meralco Gym. “Iba yung practice with FIBA Asia and even with Jones Cup… ang hirap eh.”
In all their past practices, they were always a big group. You had Ravena running drills with Castro or Raymond Almazan mixing it up against Troy Rosario in previous sessions. Coach Chot Reyes and his coaching staff have the luxury of such a big and talented pool, but preparation time remains key in any tournament.
“You might be playing well eh kasama kayo ng FIBA Asia. Ibang usapan ito kasi kayo-kayo na lang di ba? One or two player difference in a lineup makes a lot eh in terms of the flow,” Uichico noted.
Another main concern of this Gilas squad is the team’s lack of inside presence.
“Size will always be a major concern,” the coach sheepishly said.
“The Philippine team has really been guard-oriented except for (Andray) Blatche, who plays outside also. All we’re saying is we don’t have a big man with legit size that can give us some presence maski defensively, not necessarily offensively but more on the rebounding and defensive side,” he went on.
Christian Stanhardinger and Carl Bryan Cruz, who are currently in Lebanon, plan to join the team after their FIBA Asia Cup. But Gilas will take no chances in their quest for SEA Games glory as Mac Belo will also join the team as they head to Malaysia.
Coach Uichico explained that Belo will still fly out together with the team even though he was not included in the original lineup submitted because we can still make a last minute change if needed. A team must submit its final roster the day before the competition starts. So, it will be up to the Gilas coaching staff if they suddenly activate Mac Belo to add more size and length to the team.
Belo’s versatility, along with the supreme talent of Parks, Paras, Ravena, and the rest of the team, will be essential as they face tough competition in Malaysia. In particular, they keep a close eye on Thailand who almost beat them back in 2015.
“They have naturalized player also and we don’t. They have Tyler Lamb I think he’s good naman based on his performance sa ABL (ASEAN Basketball League),” Uichicio noted. Lamb, who was named the ABL’s ASEAN Heritage MVP, is a Thai-American swingman who is known for his speed and athleticism. He’s a streaky shooter and has a penchant for getting into passing lanes on the defensive end. Lamb, alongside the talented Thailand team, will potentially be a thorn on the side for Gilas.
On Wednesday, the young Gilas squad ran a lot of half court sets and ran through different dribble-drive movements. After their tune-up against the Blue Eagles, the focus was more on correcting their mistakes from that game. They would need those corrections as they will have more exhibition matches in the coming days. They plan to take on other UAAP teams such as the NU Bulldogs, FEU Tamaraws, and Adamson Falcons throughout next week before they leave.
Despite the lack of size and preparation time, this version of Gilas Pilipinas still has all the tools to earn another SEA Games victory. They are not Jayson Castro, Terrence Romeo, or June Mar Fajardo. They may have not yet made a name for themselves in the PBA or even international competition, but they all will sooner than later. Their journey to Malaysia for the SEA Games marks the first time that the Gilas program has been separated into two teams. And in this competition, with hopefully another gold medal in the bag, they will take their place in Gilas lore.
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