Teen giants Kai Sotto and Jay Pangalangan have hogged the headlines of late, what with their uncanny combination of size , talent, and youth. And while many hope that both Kai (6’9) and Jay (6’8) will eventually do the country proud as members of Batang Gilas, neither of them will be among the final 12 competing in the Southeast Asia Basketball Association (SEABA) U18 from April 23-29, 2016 in Medan, Indonesia.
(Both Kai and Jay have been invited by Batang Gilas to join the pool, and there’s a pretty fair chance either of them could still make the team’s iteration for the 2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship in Iran later in the year — along with a couple of other new names.)
Batang Gilas, instead, will feature a frontline dominated by three stars from the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc. (CESAFI): Josh Sinclair (Sacred Heart School – Ateneo de Cebu/National University), JB Bahio (University of Southern Philippines Foundation/San Beda College), and Theo Josh Flores (University of the Visayas/National University).
At 6’4 and blessed with a versatile skill-set, Sinclair will be one of coach Michael Oliver’s swiss knives on this team.
In the practices I’ve seen, he has played positions 2 through 5, and he is certainly one of the most energetic guys on this squad. Flores also stands 6’4, and he, too, possesses an enviable skill-set. The Leyte native is big enough to bang bodies in the box, but he also has the agility, handles, and shooting to be a solid wingman. As for Bahio, the 6’5 Red Lion will serve as one of this team’s main slotmen (Sinclair and UPIS big man Will Gozum being the others). He sets nasty screens and can finish well inside of 10 feet.
Coming from different CESAFI institutions, these guys were rivals back in high school, but here they’ll have to find a way to gel together and anchor Batang Gilas’s play in the box. It’s a good thing, then, that they’re pretty confident as they close in on the Medan tournament.
“I’m excited,” says Sinclair. “I want to see how we fare against other countries, and I’m confident we can keep up with them and be very competitive.”
“Sobrang blessed ang feeling ko at happy talaga na maglalaro ako sa Batang Gilas,” according to Bahio. “Di ko akalain na magiging kakampi ko sa Batang Gilas yung mga pinakamagaling sa high school.”
All three are aware, of course, that things won’t be easy, especially since this is the first time the troika will be donning the national colors. For Flores, in particular, being called up carries added meaning, since he’s fulfilling a promise he made to his mother, who passed in 2015.
“Sobrang saya kong ma-represent ang Pilipinas kasi nung bata pa lang ako, pinag-usapan na namin ng nanay ko ‘to,” he narrates. “Last year, nag-pass-away na yung nanay ko at bago siya nawala, pinangako ko na talagang makakapasok ako sa national team.”
One big challenge for them is the fact that they won’t always be bigger than their opponents. In fact, once they manage to punch a ticket to the 2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship in Iran, they will probably be among one of the smallest teams in the field.
Still, that prospect doesn’t faze these young bucks one bit.
“Coach always stresses that our opponents will be a lot taller than us,” says Sinclair. “We’re going to have to fight harder than them and run faster than them.”
All three have been preparing hard for what they’re expecting to be a very high level of physicality.
Both Bahio and Flores are actually in college already, and training with bigger opponents in their respective schools’ practice sessions helps them get ready for the international game, where foes will probably have at least a couple of inches on them.
“Hinahanda ko yung sarili ko sa pamamagitan ng pagwowork-out palagi at talagang pinag-iigihan ko sa mga practice namin,” says Bahio. “Tapos sinasanay ko yung sarili ko lumaban sa mas malalaki, lalo na sa mga practice namin sa San Beda.”
“Sinasabi ko na lang sa sarili ko, hindi dinadaan sa laki ‘yan,” adds Flores. “Sipag, tiyaga, at utakan talaga ‘yan, kailangan basahin yung sistema ng kalaban, at tiwala lang sa teammates at coaches.”
At the end of the day, all three agree that even with their refined skill-set and collective talent, Batang Gilas will only be as strong as the bonds they’ve built as teammates and how well they gel as a unit.
“We will have to be more together as a team,” says Sinclair. “They will be bigger, stronger, faster, maybe more athletic than us, but we have the heart and the teamwork to compete.”
“Malakas talaga tiwala namin sa isa’t-isa,” according to Flores. “Manalo o matalo, together kami,”
Togetherness. Teamwork. Unity. Indeed, those will be key for Batang Gilas’s success.
Josh Sinclair, JB Bahio, and Theo Josh Flores will certainly look to their shared bond as Visayans as a source of strength, and, undoubtedly, their friends, former teammates, and coaches back home in the Visayas will be very proud once they see these three CESAFI products finally take to the floor and represent the whole nation with Pilipinas emblazoned on their chests. – By Enzo Flojo
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