Two years on, the bad taste of the silver medal in the 2021 SEA Games Men’s Basketball competition remains for the Philippines.

The noise may have died down, but even just the mention of it gives fans of Philippine basketball uneasy. A comment on the most recent SEA Games may appear once in a while because simply put, a loss like that was downright frustrating.

All of this isn’t lost on the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), which just released its initial pool for the 2023 SEA Games Men’s Basketball competition, which will be held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

The list makes for a diverse pool for Gilas Pilipinas, with players from both the collegiate and professional ranks. There won’t be any shortage of talent not only because there are 28 names in the pool, but also because it’s a versatile bunch thanks in large part to the relaxed eligibility rules that typically come with the SEA Games.

PBA players will more likely than not make up a large portion of the final roster, but it would be great to see more representation from the college group to help with the long-term development of Gilas. It’s not everyday that many of the players in the pool are available and getting them familiar in a situation with stakes involved is an opportunity Gilas Pilipinas shouldn’t waste.

The likes of Mason Amos, who has yet to play a UAAP game, Kevin Quiambao, Jerom Lastimosa, the Phillips brothers Michael and Ben, and AJ Edu, whose season with the US NCAA’s Toledo Rockets has already concluded, will benefit from the experience that the SEA Games provide.

Of course, the quality of play in the SEA Games is not there yet with the rest of FIBA Asia but it is nonetheless improving. However, the pressure of the SEA Games being a gold-medal-or-bust tournament should give them a taste of the pressure due to the high standard the Philippines is held to with their dominance in the Southeast Asian region. Besides, this is on brand with Gilas head coach Chot Reyes’ thrust for “learning experiences”.

No matter what will be said between now and in May, Justin Brownlee is a shoo-in for the Gilas Pilipinas SEA Games squad barring any major injury. He provides the steady presence and the timely and reliable buckets that Gilas sorely missed during their dry spells in the 2021 SEA Games.

Apart from June Mar Fajardo and RR Pogoy, the only holdover from the 2021 SEA Games squad would be Reyes, who received a ton of flak for the Philippines’ silver-medal finish. To be fair, the 59-year old has since made some adjustments to his system thanks to some additions to his coaching staff. 

However, each tournament is a different beast and apart from winning the gold medal, Reyes and his staff must do so in convincing fashion to silence the critics, lest he wants them to return with a vengeance. Such is the price he pays for being the national team head coach, the good and the bad of his track record, and him succeeding Tab Baldwin (Although Baldwin’s ouster from national team is unfairly attributed to him. Well, maybe 90 percent of it.)

The rest of the ASEAN region is catching up basketball-wise and Gilas Pilipinas cannot be comfortable with where they’re at. It’s fair to say their performances in recent months have been promising to say the least, but sustaining that until May is easier said than done. The practices every Monday should be the bare minimum, because familiarity will be crucial for the current pool with the absences of the players from the foreign professional leagues.

It goes without saying that Gilas Pilipinas’ mission for the 2023 SEA Games is to win the gold medal and redeem themselves from their dismal performance two years ago. The pool the SBP put forward is a good start, but Gilas has their work cut out for them and it pretty much starts now.