By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter
PREPARATIONS of the Philippine national men’s basketball team for the third and final window of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Asia Cup Qualifiers in February are now in motion with the team working on a system and a game plan that suit the pieces available to it.
Speaking on the Power & Play with Noli Eala program on Saturday, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) special assistant to the SBP president Ryan Gregorio shared that the “bubble” training of Gilas Pilipinas at the INSPIRE Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna, is now in full swing.
The team is just awaiting the arrival of a couple more players to join the pool, the SBP official said.
In the bubble right now are Gilas cadet players, who comprised the team that represented the country and did well in the second window of the ACQ last November in Manama, Bahrain.
They are Isaac Go, Rey Suerte, Matt and Mike Nieto, Juan and Javi Gomez de Liaño, Will Navarro, Calvin Oftana, Kemark Carino, Dave Ildefonso, Angelo Kouame (naturalized player candidate), and Justine Baltazar.
The young cogs are joined by Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) players Kiefer Ravena and Raul Soyud (NLEX), Troy Rosario and Roger Pogoy (TNT), Justin Chua (Phoenix Super LPG), and CJ Perez (Terrafirma).
The team is still expecting to be joined by cadet Dwight Ramos and National Basketball Association (NBA) G League player Kai Sotto in the coming days. Both players are coming from the United States.
Leading the training and preparation are head coach Jong Uichico and assistants Norman Black, Caloy Garcia, and Sandy Arespacochaga as well as program director Tab Baldwin.
Mr. Gregorio admitted that there are notable names not present in the bubble training, particularly from the pro ranks, but that they in the SBP are not taking any issues on that.
“We at the SBP are working with what is presented to us. And we always move on,” said Mr. Gregorio, who is also a champion PBA coach.
He went on to underscore that when one is invited for Gilas, it is “purely voluntary in nature.”
Mr. Gregorio said they heard the side of the players who declined to play for the upcoming window and were satisfied with their reasons.
“All of the reasons presented to us were pretty much acceptable. Some of them are stuck in the United States. Others are nursing injuries, while some have medical emergencies,” he said.
But the SBP is prepared and is adjusting with the situation, Mr. Gregorio was quick to add.
“There are plans instituted by SBP and Coach Tab. There’s a short-term plan, midterm plan and for the long haul… We’re not necessarily looking for the best players, but more of who can fit in the team. They have specific roles to play,” the SBP official said.
As to Mr. Sotto joining the team, Mr. Gregorio said the SBP welcomes his decision and that they are working double time to bring the top young prospect over as soon as possible.
“We’re in touch with the camp of Kai Sotto, making sure we follow strict protocols and not cut corners. We’re happy with the commitment he has shown to play for the country. We also made sure that he got G League approval to play here,” Mr. Gregorio said.
Mr. Sotto surprised many last week when he announced that he will play for Gilas next month when the bubble tournament of the G League also starts next month.
Reports have that Mr. Sotto did get approval from the league and his team Ignite to play in the ACQ window, but he is expected to miss the early goings of the G League tournament.
Mr. Sotto is in the G League in the hopes of fulfilling his dream of playing in the NBA.
The third window of the FIBA ACQ happens from Feb. 18 to 22 at Clark City in Pampanga.
Gilas is to play three games — two against Korea (Feb. 18 and 22) and one versus Indonesia (Feb. 20).
The Philippines currently leads Group A with an unblemished record of 3-0 and six points. Second running is Korea (2-0), followed by Indonesia (1-2) and Thailand (0-3).
In the qualifiers, the top two teams for each group in the end book an outright spot in the Asia Cup later this year in Indonesia.