When the Philippine National Men’s Basketball Team becomes the subject of discussion in the media, more often than not it centers on the team’s lineup.
Questions on who’s in and who’s out are not uncommon, but WHY particular players are in or out of Gilas Pilipinas is a hot topic on the social media discourse.
That’s the price that comes with players coming from various leagues, some of whom have already made adjustments to the FIBA international calendar. When their leagues don’t, however, players are likely to jump through hoops before teams give their blessing to join practices. Sometimes, it’s just unfortunate timing.
For the sixth window of the 2023 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, the availability of the likes of Kai Sotto, Carl Tamayo, and Japeth Aguilar are unsure. While Sotto and Tamayo are set to play in Japan’s B.League, the fact that they will just join their respective squads and must complete some requirements complicates matters.
Meanwhile, Aguilar remains on the sidelines due to an MCL sprain he suffered almost a week ago. At 36, the eight-time PBA champion isn’t getting any younger, but injuries like that also stem from a long and grueling season. Aguilar and the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings recently returned from a quick break following their 2022-2023 Honda PBA Commissioner’s Cup championship, and the compressed schedule for the 2022 Honda PBA Governors’ Cup can also be a tricky one.
As one can see, even at this stage, the chances Gilas head coach Chot Reyes gets his ideal lineup are slim. Thankfully, he has a deep pool to lean on, with the likes of six-time PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo, Raymond Almazan, naturalized big men Ange Kouame and Justin Brownlee, and college standouts Kevin Quiambao and Mason Amos joining the Monday Gilas Pilipinas practices.
That is the point of a pool after all, more so when members of that pool are longtime national team players. The B.League players not named Carl Tamayo and Kai Sotto are set to report to the Monday Gilas practices, and the likes of Dwight Ramos, Jordan Heading, Ray Parks Jr., and the Ravena brothers Kiefer and Thirdy and all are familiar faces in the squad (more so Ramos).
All these circumstances are beyond Gilas Pilipinas’ control and player availability has been an issue since time immemorial. The nearly 400 words above just speaks of how it weighs heavily on the minds of pretty much everyone (myself included?), but perhaps attention should be paid towards something else.
The fifth window of the 2023 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers drew praise from many quarters about the team play on both ends of the floor. Part of this may be the addition of Tim Cone to the Gilas coaching staff, but it also comes with having at least a handful of players being able to play with the Gilas Pilipinas program for quite some time.
Familiarity. Maybe that’s it. Rather than thinking of a dream lineup, getting whoever is present up to speed is the best way to go. Team USA gets the commitment of their players for at least two years so as to get them immersed in the program and while catching Team USA is a longshot, it’s a great strategy Gilas can emulate. Never mind if some of the best players can’t or won’t suit up for Gilas Pilipinas; coach whoever wants to be there. Rather than whine about negotiations with players who have other commitments because when you can build a Gilas program players would want to play in.
It’s highly unlikely that Gilas Pilipinas will ever have the ideal lineup that Chot Reyes oh so desires. Rather than focus on roster construction and whining about it, build with what you have and live without the results. After all, there were already some encouraging signs and isn’t progress all that we want from our national basketball team with only a handful of months left before the FIBA World Cup?