Gilas Pilipinas all out to reclaim Asian Games title

MANILA, Philippines – With barely a week before the 2023 Asian Games starts, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) and Gilas Pilipinas are now racing against time to finalize and form a solid core to atone Philippines’ lost Asian basketball glory.

It’s been a week since the prestigious FIBA World Cup 2023 officially wrapped up where Philippines took up the 24th place. The Nationals, now led by PBA’s winningest coach, Tim Cone will see action in Hangzhou, China to compete against Asia’s best basketball squads.

Alongside Asian Games’ inauguration, Japan’s BLeague season unfolds that forced majority of Gilas’ FIBA World Cup players decommit from SBP’s invitation. Dwight Ramos, Kai Sotto, Kiefer Ravena, Bobby Ray Parks, and AJ Edu are all formally out as they report back to their respective BLeague ball clubs.

Jordan Clarkson, Philippines’ top scorer at the FIBA World Cup will also be missed in the Asiad, as the Utah Jazz guard gears up for the training camp and NBA pre-season tournament.

Sans the key players, SBP was still able to mold a formidable roster for the quadrennial Asian meet.

World Cup holdovers June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, and Scottie Thompson will spearhead the Philippine basketball delegates joined by PBA stars Mo Tautuaa, Chris Newsome, Jason Perkins, Stanley Pringle, Calvin Oftana, comeback players Calvin Abueva and Terrence Romeo while naturalized Filipinos Justin Brownlee and Angelo Kouame complete Gilas Pilipinas.

Comeback kids Terrence Romeo and Calvin Abueva beef up Gilas Pilipinas
Comeback kids Terrence Romeo and Calvin Abueva beef up Gilas Pilipinas at the 2023 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China. Photo Credit: FIBA

Rhenz Abando, who has been the team’s biggest revelation at the World Cup, is on standby as he secures permission from his KBL mother ball club Anyang KGC.

CJ Perez and Jamie Malonzo could be great additions to the team but both were not included in the lineup due to unavailability with personal matters as the main reasons while RR Pogoy was relegated to the sickbay and has become potential guard backup for Coach Cone.

With just a week before Gilas’ Asian Games stint, what are the odds of the national cagers bagging the gold?

Obviously, the chance of the Philippines securing the top place is higher if we only have the luxury of utilizing overseas contractual players even without Clarkson. But the current lineup however has the full capacity to accomplish a podium finish.

Fajardo proved several times that he is able to muscle up against the world’s biggest centers. The “Kraken” without a doubt would still dominate his department come the Asiad. Backing him up is Kouame who is a legit seven-footer. The former blue eagle could fill up the void left by Edu especially in shot blocking and rebounding.

Tautuaa could bring more size in 4-position and a great reliever for Aguilar who could post a huge threat underneath the basket. Perkins too, is another great choice for the squad. Aside from defensive purposes, the hefty lefty has decent range from beyond the arc, too.

Losing Clarkson would definitely hurt Gilas in the scoring department but Coach Cone’s decision to bring Romeo, Pringle, and Oftana in means preserving the team’s offensive tenacity as these guards possess the license to shoot anytime at their will.

Never count out Brownlee who, despite being a second-string-naturalized-player could inflict damage to any opposing team. The Ginebra resident import is the “ideal reinforcement” as he can drop buckets from anywhere on the court.

No other player who is more deserving of orchestrating the plays on the floor than Thompson. Despite having small stature for most international point guards, he has the uncanny ability to out rebound everyone else and sneak on the defenders for sure layups.

Lastly, Newsome and Abueva’s inclusion will provide hustle and energy for the team. Like Fajardo, Abueva has proven several times that he could play against the international toughest ballers. The former SSC stag has the “puso” a la Marc Pingris who would “die for the ball” every time he steps on the court.

This current Gilas lineup is with no doubt competitive. However, if SBP only has full control over the PBA teams, eligibility, and availability issues, the roster could be a whole lot better and more lethal.

Gilas needs an excellent defender. Philippines is in Group C of the preliminary stage together with Thailand, Bahrain, and Jordan. Yes, Jordan with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as its naturalized player.

Hollis-Jefferson was dubbed as “Mamba 2.0” during the world cup is really a force to reckon with and Gilas needs someone to guard the unstoppable NBA veteran. Abueva could definitely play against the Jordanian reinforcement. However, he is not agile enough to clamp Hollis-Jefferson down.

If there were only a few more roster spots, Gilas could assign Chris Ross to check on Hollis-Jefferson and other top-scorers in the tournament. The San MIguel guard earned the “Import Stopper” moniker in the PBA due to his ability to neutralize the hot-shooting imports of the league.

TNT’s Mike Williams could also be a huge addition to the team because of his three-point shooting prowess. Many experts believe that Williams has the better outside shooting compared to Ramos.

Matthew Wright and Jordan Heading could also be great fit in the team who could join Williams in lighting up the downtown. However, SBP has limited options and it could only do so much but for sure, it is doing its very best to come up with the best solutions and roster.

Ultimately, Andray Blatche could still be useful in the front court. Even at 37 years old, the naturalized Filipino is still in excellent playing condition even without ample practice with the team. As Coach Chot Reyes said, he still chooses an NBA player even without practice over a local with enough training with the squad (pertaining to opting Clarkson over Sotto).

For now, Gilas’ twelve-man lineup is decent and is really capable of attaining a podium finish at the Asian Games.

Gilas Pilipinas starts its campaign on September 26 against Bahrain. An South East Asian clash versus Tyler Lamb and Team Thailand on September 28 and will be tested against Hollis-Jefferson on September 30 before heading to the next round.

— Joey Boy Capos, The Summit Express

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