What's Ahead for Gilas Pilipinas 3.0 in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship?
About two years ago, the Filipino nation (mostly of basketball fans) was in ecstasy. Some held up hands in the air, while others gave a round of applause. It was a time of celebration for hoop junkies after our national basketball team Gilas Pilipinas took to the stage to receive the silver medal for the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship. It's not gold, but the award is just as valuable for the proud nation.
As the 2015 edition of the biennial basketball tournament is just around the corner, fans are reminiscing the glory days that occurred right on Philippine soil. Questions, likewise, plague the future. Will it be another 2nd place finish for the team or is the gold medal not as unattainable as it was before?
The squad who bravely represented the country two years ago, however, is not completely the same as the one projected to battle this year. Of the 12 cagers who played last 2013, only half of them are back for another tour of duty - a reason numerous sports analysts find it hard to predict the outcome.
The six mainstays are Jayson Castro, Ranidel de Ocampo, Gabe Norwood, Gary David, Marc Pingris, and Jimmy Alapag. Pingris initially begged off, but had a change of heart in the process, working his way back to the team. Alapag, meanwhile, got out of retirement to play for the country one more time.
Where are the other six players?
Naturalized center and Gilas program mainstay Marcus Douthit isn't included in the current 16-man pool of newly-minted national team coach Tab Baldwin. Andray Blatche, another naturalized Filipino cager and former NBA player, takes his spot on the roster. This is a logical move for the staff as Blatche is younger and more versatile than Douthit, and proved his worth in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Like Douthit, Larry Fonacier didn't play in the World Cup due to basketball fatigue, prompting Baldwin to scratch him off the Gilas 3.0 wish list, as well. Jeff Chan, on the other hand, wasn't allowed by his PBA ball club Rain or Shine to join. The Elasto Painters, however, gave Norwood the green light.
The other three players who declined to join the team, citing different (medical and personal) reasons, are LA Tenorio, June Mar Fajardo, and Japeth Aguilar. All three are locally playing for SMC-owned teams.
Conspiracy theories came when Fajardo, PBA's reigning MVP, begged off from the Gilas program. He said that he's suffering from plantar fasciitis on both feet, which he got during the PBA's last season, where his team, the San Miguel Beermen, won the title in two of the three conferences.
Given that his injuries were true, a lot fans are dumbfounded because the burly slotman didn't show any signs of injuries when he dominated in the Governor's Cup Finals just a few months ago. Nonetheless, theories remain theories, unless proven otherwise.
Better Opportunity for Other Players
Having only six of the 12 players who won silver in the last Asian qualifiers back isn't necessarily a bad thing for the basketball program's chances this year. As the famous saying goes, "When one door closes, another opens." Losing six players opens up the opportunity for other ballers to prove their worth.
Aside from the Gilas mainstays, the players included in the current pool are Terrence Romeo, Calvin Abueva, Asi Taulava, Sonny Thoss, Dondon Hontiveros, JC Intal, Aldrech Ramos, Matt Ganuelas-Rosser, Troy Rosario, and Moala Tautuaa.
This mix of veterans and rookies may not be as competitive on paper as the previous roster, but they all have the same desire and goal - to prove their doubters wrong. Some say these players lack the skills to compete in FIBA games; however, everyone already has the experience playing internationally.
Taulava, Thoss, and Hontiveros played for the national team before. Intal, Ramos, Ganuelas-Rosser, and Rosario also suited up for the Philippine youth squad. Romeo and Abueva, meanwhile, participated in FIBA 3x3 tournaments before. Tautuaa, in his case, made a name in the ASEAN Basketball League.
So far, only Romeo and Abueva are seizing the opportunity, proving that they fit in the squad after individually showing good performances in the Jones Cup. These two are the current bright spots for the team in the tournament, and it won't be a surprise if Baldwin selects them in the final 12-man roster.
Tautuaa, the top overall pick in the 2015 PBA Draft, isn't legible to suit up as a Filipino, as per the FIBA rules that foreign-born players, before turning 16 years old, should've had a passport from the country where they intend to play for. He, however, plays in the Jones Cup as replacement for Blatche, who went back in the U.S. to attend his uncle's funeral.
Bold Predictions for Gilas 3.0
Nothing is certain for the national squad in the upcoming FIBA Asia Championship. With a different coaching staff and system from the previous team, it's hard to say how the current one will fare in the tournament. Plus, other nations are preparing well for the Philippines, especially because a spot in the 2016 Rio Olympics is at stake.
Of the current 15 players in the pool (excluding Tautuaa due to his ineligibility), here is our prediction of who'll make the cut for final roster:
Center: Andray Blatche (sure slot), Sonny Thoss, Asi Taulava
Forward: Marc Pingris, Calvin Abueva, Matt Ganuelas-Rosser, Gabe Norwood, Ranidel de Ocampo
Guard: Jimmy Alapag, Jayson Castro, Terrence Romeo, Dondon Hontiveros
Leaving out David in the roster is tough. But given his performance in a Gilas uniform, he isn't as reliable as he is in the pros. His offensive prowess doesn't manifest well, although he had one good game in the Jones Cup. In his role as a designated shooter, we opted to go for Hontiveros. The Cebuano Hotshot plays the same role in the Alaska Aces squad, and compared to David, Hontiveros is a better defender.
Intal and Ramos, meanwhile, don't suit well in international games, based on the pocket tournaments Gilas played in. They have the height to compete against taller players, but their game shows otherwise.
The case of Rosario is quite different, though. The PBA-bound rookie is playing well, although there isn't any available spot in his position. It is tough leaving him out; but compared to David, Intal, and Ramos, Rosario has better chances of making the team. Perhaps we'll see more of him in the future squads.
The FIBA Asia Championship is set to take place in Changsha, Hunan, China on September 23 to October 3. As Filipinos, we must not dwell too much on who should and should not be on the roster. But whoever makes the final Gilas squad, we should be as all-out in supporting them as we were a couple of years ago.