By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter
FOLLOWING their impressive showing in the just-concluded second window of the 2021 International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Asia Cup Qualifiers in Manama, Bahrain, do members of the young Gilas Pilipinas team deserve spots for the next windows?
Coach Jong Uichico believes they do, and something the team is going to greatly consider once they reassemble next year for training camp.
“All of them are in contention to have a spot in the third window [and beyond]. All of them have equal chances,” said Mr. Uichico in the press conference following their sweep on Monday of Thailand in their two-game series in the Manama window, which took place from Nov. 27 to 30.
“We will make an assessment next year when we start our training camp again. We will make our decisions then,” he added.
The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas Inc. (SBP) decided to send a team composed of amateur and collegiate stars for the second window with the purpose of giving the young pool of talents international exposure and further develop their game.
It was part of the basketball federation’s long-term program for the national team, including that for the FIBA World Cup in 2023, which the country is co-hosting with Japan and Indonesia.
Some doubted the team’s composition and its ability to compete. But come the window, it not only competed, it won — big.
In the two games Gilas played, it defeated Thailand by an average winning margin of 28 points.
The team did it in steady fashion, working within the system laid out for it by Mr. Uichico and his staff, which included SBP program director Tab Baldwin and assistant coach Boyet Fernandez.
Ateneo Filipino-American recruit Dwight Ramos impressed in the competition, recording averages of 16.5 points, six rebounds, 2.5 assists and two steals.
Javi and Juan Gomez de Liano of the University of the Philippines were steady, with the former good for 14 points and 2.5 rebounds and the latter 13 markers, four rebounds and 3.5 dimes per contest.
Point guard Matt Nieto (8 ppg and 4 apg), Isaac Go (7.5 ppg and 7 rpg) and Justine Baltazar (7 ppg, 8.5 rpg and 2 spg) also had it solid.
Other members of the team were Jaydee Tungcab, Rey Suerte, Kobe Paras, Calvin Oftana, Dave Ildefonso, Mike Nieto, Will Navarro and Kenmark Carino, who all did their fair share when they were on the floor.
The team’s sweep of the second window thrust the Philippines to the top of Group A of the qualifiers with a 3-0 record, dislodging South Korea (2-0), and fortified the country’s position for a spot in the FIBA Asia Cup happening in August next year.
As per tournament format, the top two teams in each of the six groupings in the qualifiers advance outright to the Asia Cup.
Next for Gilas is the third window of the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers scheduled for Feb. 18 to 22 next year, with the Philippines possibly playing host to some games as the SBP offered the country to FIBA as a possible venue.
SBP LAUDS GILAS EFFORTS
Meanwhile, Gilas’ showing in the Manama window had the SBP proud and happy.
“Even with the challenges the situation presented, you gave no excuses and gave us two performances that the entire country is proud of,” said SBP president Al Panlilio in a statement on Tuesday.
“Having young players come together at such a short time and still perform tremendously gives me so much excitement for what the future holds for Philippine basketball… We’re so proud of you.”