This year’s FilOil Flying V Preseason Premier Cup is going to be unlike any other. Normally seen as one of the biggest preseason tournaments for UAAP and NCAA schools, this year’s edition will also feature the Gilas Cadets made up of players from the ’23 for 23′ pool.
The last time around, the event also served as training ground for Batang Gilas in preparing for the FIBA Asia Under-16 tournament. This time, it’s the men’s squad who needs to be prepared.
This FilOil Cup will be the program’s first taste of competition ever since being formed earlier this year. Their participation certainly adds interest and intrigue in the tournament. The program’s 16-man line-up for the tournament is made up of Kobe Paras, Ricci Rivero, Kai Sotto, CJ Perez, Abu Tratter, J-Jay Alejandro, Troy Rike, Javee Mocon, Paul Desiderio, Will Gozum, Juan Gomez de Liano, Prince Rivero, Arvin Tolentino, Ken Tuffin, Vince Tolentino and Carl Tamayo. While there are certainly many elements about their participation to watch out for, I listed down the four things I am looking forward to during their tournament run.
1. Kobe Paras in action
This will be the first time for most Filipino fans to see Kobe Paras play on local soil, and many are surely excited. The 20-year-old’s last competitive tournament was the 2017 SEA Games as a member of a young Gilas squad, but that was a tournament where the team steamrolled its way to winning. Virtually everyone played well.
The Gilas cadets squad is technically made up of young players, but for the first time since becoming part of the program, Paras will play an unusual role as one of the “old guys.” He’s also one of the few players in the pool who does not have commitments with other schools in the tournament. Not only will we finally get to see Kobe play regular minutes as a featured player, but we will also see him as a leader.
Coach Chot Reyes recently made controversial comments about Filipino players not getting better by going to the States to play basketball since they were not playing regularly. The second generation player, however, insisted that his time spent in the States definitely helped in his development. We shall see whose assessment is correct.
2. The controversial Ricci Rivero
From being initially left out of the ’23 for 23′ pool to being one of its core pieces in the tournament, Ricci Rivero’s journey with the Gilas cadets program has been interesting, to say the least. Aside from being one of the most popular and controversial basketball players in our country today, the high-flying Rivero’s participation in the tournament is worth watching for two main reasons: first, to see how he has progressed from his breakout UAAP season, and second, to see how well he performs in front of fans in competitive action.
While he still hasn’t chosen a school to commit for his collegiate career, Rivero will still need to undergo one year of residency wherever he goes due to collegiate rules on transferring. Fans, scouts, and coaches alike surely wouldn’t want to miss this chance.
3. High school standouts vs college stalwarts
We all know who Kai Sotto is by now, but the 7’1″ sensation isn’t the only promising big-man in the Philippines today. The Cadets line-up also features 16-year old Carl Tamayo and 19-year old Will Gozum. Sotto and Tamayo have yet to finish their high school careers, while Gozum — the NCAA Jrs. Season 93 MVP — is an incoming rookie for the UP Fighting Maroons. This will be their first taste of basketball at the collegiate level, and it’s definitely going to be worth watching how they will match up against their older counterparts.
The Gilas cadets line-up also features a few players who are about to take the biggest step of their basketball careers – going pro.
J-Jay Alejandro, Vince Tolentino and Abu Tratter have all used up their eligibility for college and are all expected to apply for the PBA Rookie Draft later this year. NCAA standouts CJ Perez and Robert Bolick (and Kobe Paras?) might also join them. Aside from playing for the country, these players are also potentially playing for their draft stock. Perform well, and some PBA teams might take them earlier than expected. Play badly, and they might slip down the draft. With all their experience and supposedly more polished skill sets, we should expect these players to really excel in their roles and show everyone that they are ready for the next level.