For the first time in since 1951, the Philippines — a hoops-crazed nation — is willingly withdrawing from the Asian Games basketball tournament. Apart from a suspension in 2006, the country’s Gilas PIlipinas program has been a staple in the quadrennial meet.
Initially, the PBA’s TNT Katropa was supposed to represent the flag, up until the FIBA suspensions warranted against the team’s key players (Jayson Castro, Troy Rosario, Terrence Romeo, and Roger Pogoy) made things a tad tricky. The task was then shifted to the 2018 PBA Commissioner’s Cup number one ranked team, the Rain or Shine Elastopainters.
Although not as star-studded as their predecessors, the squad is backed by the no-nonsense approach of coach Yeng Guio. There was even talk that Filipino-American NBA player Jordan Clarkson might finally join the squad, plus there was hope that other PBA teams would loan its players.
But the dream team proved to be too-good to be true, as the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) pulled the plug last Thursday, claiming that there was an inability to produce a team competitive enough for the tournament.
If only the Gilas program had a bunch of talented, up-and-coming bunch who are being groomed for the same exact reason. If only we had a group of prospects that are free from any professional obligations, whose youth and energy would suffice for the lack of ample preparation time.
Oh wait, we actually have one. The “23 for 23” pool, better known as the Gilas Cadets, are composed of college basketball stars and high school standouts that would soon be marquee names in Philippine basketball.
The team is bannered by PH collegiate juggernauts Cj Perez (LPU), Robert Bolick and Jayvee Mocon (SBU), Juan Gomez de Liaño, Paul Desiderio and Kobe Paras (UP), Matt Nieto, Thirdy Ravena, and Isaac Go (ADMU), JJay Alejandro, Josh Sinclair and Troy Rike (NU), and Arvin Tolentino and Abu Tratter (DLSU). Towering kid-wonders Kai Sotto and AJ Edu are included as well.
In the wake of SBP’s withdrawal from the competition, FOX Sports Philippines cites five reasons why the Gilas cadets would have been the perfect replacement for the Asiad.
No conflict of schedules
One of the biggest hurdles that prevented the SBP from getting suitable players is that the Asian Games schedule overlaps with the current PBA season. This won’t be the case for the cadets, who are not bounded by any professional contracts, apart from obligations to their respective schools.
The UAAP season 81 won’t be back until September, which allows the likes of Desiderio, Rike and Tolentino to be able to suit up. Ravena, Go, and Nieto are still fresh from their impressive performances in the 2018 Jones Cup, and would be eager for another chance to banner the flag.
However, the NCAA players will be in for a complicated situation since season 94 is currently under way. The Asiad games is set from August 14 to September 1, right around the first-round eliminations in the NCAA. But since it’s still early in the season, it won’t be a stretch to say that San Beda University and Lyceum of the Philippines might give Bolick, Mocon, and Perez the go-signal to participate in the games.
Nothing to lose, everything to gain
Given how young and inexperienced this roster is, the public consensus would most likely be how the group “is not yet ready” for the big stage.
But the thing is, every good program has to start somewhere. Why not now? Why not give these young lads a chance to get their feet wet and see first-hand what it feels like to play with the country’s colors on their chest?
The same perceptions were given to the Ateneo team when they battled against professional and even national squads in the 2018 Jones Cup. Look how that turned out. They surprised a lot of people despite being in the same boat as this cadet team (and they did it with perhaps even lesser individual talent).
Another SBP dilemma was they couldn’t figure out if they wanted to simply participate in the games or if they wanted to actually contend. I believe this cadet line-up covers both.
It’s quite the gamble, sure, but if they actually manage to win some games against legitimate competition, it will only prove that these players indeed have high ceilings. It will also surely boost not just the morale of these youngsters, but also millions of Filipinos back home.
If they lose majority of their games – which, of course, will sting – they will still end up learning valuable lessons in the process. No doubt it will hurt, but the experience alone would benefit them more in the long run.
That’s the true definition of a ‘win-win’ if you ask me.
Build chemistry right away
One of the biggest intangibles of any winning basketball program is the chemistry between its players, coaches, and the whole organization. Building team chemistry takes time, and like my point earlier, why not start now?
No matter how many hours this squad spends in practices and team meetings in closed doors, true chemistry will only be earned through winning and losing actual games together.
Plus, sooner or later, these youngsters are going to be exposed to the different level of speed and physicality in international games anyway.
It might seem that we are throwing these young, naïve cubs to the lion’s den, but no matter how grave the outcome might be, at least they are actually enduring it together. And at the end of the day, that should be more valuable than anything that reflects in the score board.
A chance for Sotto and Edu to hang with the big boys
Given than the team would be facing grown men in the competition (some might even be old enough to be their fathers), raw high school prospects Kai Sotto and Aj Edu would most likely play limited minutes or might not even be in the hypothetical final line-up.
But make no question about it, these two are literally the pillars of the country’s basketball future, and it would be beyond interesting to see how they’d fare in the brightest stage.
Young as they are, their height and length alone would pose trouble to opposing teams who would most likely compensate by being overly physical with the pair.
If they won’t be fielded in the games, having the chance to practice with the likes of versatile big men like Go, Tolentino, and even Tratter would work wonders for these future stars.
A rebirth for the Gilas program
No matter what naysayers might say, going for an all youth-moment is the most progressive path for the Gilas program.
Not only does it ensure that Philippine basketball moves forward in the future, it also frees us from the shackles of reliance that we have with older professional players.
The original Gilas 1.0 was built for the exact reason; to produce reliable stars for international tournaments by exposing the collegiate prospects as early as possible. These players have served the country well and have given us pride beyond our wildest dreams.