Now that Gilas Pilipinas’ 2023 Heyuan WUS International Basketball Tournament campaign has come to a close, what have we learned?

They remain a work in progress.

Sloppy play as reflected by a disjointed offense and some late adjustments raised questions as to what really went on during the Philippine national team’s trip to Europe. Ill-advised shots and passes to clogged areas certainly didn’t assuage any worries. Moreover, there were moments where both Iran and Senegal played with more heart, further proving that Puso isn’t something exclusive to Gilas.

The term learning experience may be the most overused term thanks to Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes (and the Filipinos’ penchant for harping on it when talking about the Philippine national team’s buildup to the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup), but Gilas may have learned more about themselves in the 2023 Heyuan WUS International Basketball Tournament  than their camp Europe.

There were instances when Gilas Pilipinas played from behind and this came due to a myriad of reasons. Whether it was due to struggles over sheer size or inconsistent efforts on either end of the floor, the Philippines faced challenges that gave them a taste of what Group A, composed of the Dominican Republic, Italy, and Angola, could bring. Having June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, AJ Edu, and Kai Sotto doesn’t take away the fact that size was not really Gilas’ strong suit, something we could see against the Dominican Republic and Angola. Meanwhile, Iran may have deemed the squad they sent to the 2023 Heyuan WUS International Basketball Tournament as “Team B”, but their cohesion simulated that of Italy.

In some ways Gilas Pilipinas responded to these challenges well, but there were times when they may have to look back at the tape and make some adjustments. How teams respond to adversity at times matters more than the adversities themselves and the Philippines’ last two wins over Senegal and Iran were evidence of that.

Ball movement was largely what allowed Gilas to pull away, as they were able to find open shots and create openings against taller opponents and organized defenses. Gilas Pilipinas found mismatches, but more importantly, created space, more so when the 3-pointers were falling. All of it allowed the likes of Fajardo space to operate, but also let Edu show his stuff. With the shots falling, it was easier to get everyone involved and engaged, which in turn, helped the Philippines find its groove.

Looking at the bigger picture though, Gilas cannot have slow starts. It’s an issue that plagued them even during their training camp in Europe, where teams of pretty much all ages tended to get ahead of them before Gilas Pilipinas mounted a comeback. The Philippines can’t count on their habit of being a diesel engine because there are times when leads become insurmountable.

On his part, Reyes’ penchant for sticking to his old reliables at times hurt him and his team. One can’t blame him for tapping players from the TNT Tropang Giga, the team he coaches in the PBA. However, some of them aren’t primed for national team duty or aren’t suitable for the international game. Giving the other players in the pool more opportunities could open up some things for the rest of the team.

The arrival of Clarkson and hopefully Sotto as well should further boost Gilas as they head to the final stretch of their 2023 FIBA World Cup preparations. Upcoming friendlies reportedly against Mexico and Montenegro should present some challenges and with a potentially complete roster, the hope is that Reyes gets a better picture of what he wants to with this squad. More importantly, the drama should be over already, but with Reyes leading the team, you never really know.

Gilas Pilipinas may be far from perfect at this point, but the headway they’ve made thus far can’t be discounted. With a little over two weeks before the Philippines’ opening game against the Dominican Republic, there’s still time to sharpen things up and with the squad set to be complete, Gilas should be fully focused on the task at hand as there aren’t any excuses left on the table.