(Photo from coach Chot Reyes’ Twitter account)
The 23 for 2023 Gilas Pilipinas cadets are set to have their first taste of competitive basketball as a team when they take on reigning UAAP champions Ateneo Blue Eagles in the FilOil Flying V Preseason Premier Cup.
There are high expectations for this Gilas pool that boasts the best young talents in the Philippines. The Blue Eagles, however, will certainly look to give the national team a baptism of fire and show them what it’s like to play against the country’s top collegiate team.
First real test for Gilas
Ateneo was horrible in the FilOil tourney last year. In fact, they even failed to make it past the group stages. However, that didn’t stop Coach Tab Baldwin and company from winning the UAAP Season 80 Men’s Basketball crown after they finished with a 13-1 record and taking down the De La Salle Green Archers in the best-of-three finale.
They lost Chibueze Ikeh, Vince Tolentino and Kris Porter to eligibility and graduation, but they still have Thirdy Ravena, Isaac Go and Matt Nieto leading the way after the three were excused from joining the national team.
On the other hand, the Gilas cadets are playing as a team for the first time. Coach Chot Reyes named the pool earlier this year, but they have only come together as a group this month to prepare for the competition.
Kobe and Ricci: Headline act
What the Gilas cadets lack in experience as a real team, they make up for with talent. They are THE national team, after all.
Ricci Rivero and Kobe Paras are two of the mainstays for the squad, and all eyes will be on them as they take on the court this Saturday.
Rivero has not played competitively since his controversial exit from DLSU and could use the opportunity to get back at Ateneo who gave a bitter ending to his tenure as a Green Archer.
Paras, meanwhile, returned home after declaring that he was going to turn professional.
Other Gilas players to watch out for are Batang Gilas standout Kai Sotto and Abu Tratter, who was part of the Philippine team that fought Australia and Japan in the recent FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers.
Fil-Am Troy Rike also joins the squad and could give Filipino fans a good look at what he brings to the table for the national team.
UP players Paul Desiderio, Juan Gomez de Liano and Will Gozum, however, are doubtful to suit up for Gilas in the game considering that the Maroons have a match earlier that day. This is after UP coach Bo Perasol confirmed to FOX Sports Philippines that playing for the university is the priority of the trio.
What to expect?
There’s talent — and plenty of it — in this matchup, and that will be on full display in the game.
Experience and team chemistry give Ateneo the advantage, but they also have a lot of work to do to stop a stacked Gilas squad.
Sure enough, developing the team and knowing more about the cadets comes first for Reyes – not to mention that they are likely to start slow as the players try to get a feel of each other. However, it won’t be a surprise to see Reyes instill a winning mentality in his young stars this early.