The FIBA World Cup is set to tip off this August 25 and Gilas Pilipinas’ preparations are now in full swing.
The team–at least most of it–has been training together since early June when its 21-man pool was initially announced.
There have been some speed bumps along the way, particularly with the availability of Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson and 7’3 center Kai Sotto, yet the group has remained steadfast in its build-up.
Gilas is currently participating in the Heyuan WUS International Basketball Tournament in China and kicked off their stint with a 76-65 win over Iran. Though their Asian rivals did not field their best team, it was nonetheless a promising showing for the Philippines and they even led by as much as 19 points late in the match.
Barangay Ginebra San Miguel’s prized forward Jamie Malonzo was the topscorer for Gilas, putting up 11 points along with six rebounds, while Dwight Ramos and Calvin Oftana chipped in 10 points apiece.
Ramos continues to make it clear that he is the country’s best guard next to Clarkson and his play in the coming month may very well determine the upside of this team’s World Cup stint.
The stars of the contest though were former Batang Gilas standout AJ Edu and ex-Letran Knight Rhenz Abando who is now playing in the Korean Basketball League.
The outing versus Iran was the 6’10 Edu’s debut with the Men’s team and he did not disappoint. The 23-year-old former University of Toledo standout put up nine points, nine rebounds, and a block. He provides the team with a mobile frontcourt presence that they have sorely lacked in recent years.
The former NCAA Most Valuable Player Abando brought the energy as well, chipping in eight points and two highlight reel-worthy blocks. Abando, who is still only 25 years old, is possibly this team’s best perimeter defender already and he made a case for this versus Iran.
Edu and Abando both made convincing cases to be included in Gilas’ final 12-man roster for the upcoming World Cup. The presence of these two players has injected life to this program and including them in the team will not just be an investment for the future, but also looks like the best decision for the present.
The Nigerian-Filipino Edu already has a proven track record of playing alongside Sotto from their Batang Gilas stint and showed encouraging chemistry alongside six-time PBA Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo in their latest win over Iran. He deserves to be the third big man on this team ahead of longtime national team member Japeth Aguilar, who is already 36 years old, and the 34-year-old Poy Erram.
Meanwhile, Abando faces stiff competition for a spot as he will have to joust with fellow wingmen Calvin Oftana, Ray Parks, RR Pogoy, Chris Newsome, and Thirdy Ravena. Assuming that Clarkson, Ramos, Malonzo, Fajardo, Sotto, Edu, Kiefer Ravena, and CJ Perez will make the team, that will leave only four slots for these six players.
World Cup fever is now approaching fever pitch and it will be interesting to see who ultimately makes it to Gilas’ final roster. This is a team in flux, with Fajardo and Aguilar the only remnants of the 2013 team that pulled off a shocking silver medal finish during the FIBA Asia tournament held in Manila as well.
There are several players in their mid-20s who are capable of taking over and it would serve the best interests of this program if they are given the chance to be at the forefront of this team sooner rather than later.