MANILA, Philippines – Playing without a naturalized player will only benefit the young Gilas Pilipinas team that will compete in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers, according to San Miguel guard Chris Ross.
Ross, who helped the Philippines win the gold medal in basketball in the 30th Southeast Asian Games, sees the upcoming qualifiers as an opportunity for the national team players to learn to work together without the "crutch" of having a naturalized player as their teammate.
"A lot of the times, when you have a naturalized guy or an import… You use it as a crutch," said Ross, who dropped by Gilas Pilipinas practice on Monday night at the Meralco Gym.
"When things aren't going well, you give him the ball, and kinda get out of the way," he noted.
Gilas will not have that option when they play Indonesia on February 23 on the road. The team is composed of a mix of young, up-and-coming players and PBA veterans, with Magnolia's Marc Pingris the most experienced member of the squad. NLEX's Kiefer Ravena serves as the team's captain for the upcoming qualifying window.
Some of the members of the training pool are still in college, such as Ateneo de Manila University's Dave Ildefonso and Dwight Ramos.
That these young players will compete without a naturalized player such as Andray Blatche can only help them in the long run, said Ross.
"Now that it's just these guys, they have to figure it out on their own," the San Miguel guard explained. "They have to work that much harder in practice, and prepare for what they're gonna go through when they play these games without a naturalized guy."
"It's only good for what they're gonna go through," he stressed. "And like I said, these young guys are putting in work. I follow most of them on Instagram, and they love basketball. They're always around the game."
"So yeah, it will be good for them."
Indonesia is expected to feature Lester Prosper as their naturalized player in the game. The Gilas players are familiar with Prosper, who served as Columbian Dyip's import in the 2019 PBA Commissioner's Cup.
The 31-year-old American averaged 33.6 points, 16.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.6 blocks, and 1.0 steal per game for the Dyip.
He is also a good friend of Ross's, and the SMB guard said Prosper and the rest of Indonesia will be worthy challengers to Gilas Pilipinas.
"(Prosper has) been over there working for a long time, and he's really, really excited for this game," said Ross. "I'm sure it will be a pretty good game, with what (coach) Rajko (Toroman) does with those guys, and how he has those guys drilled."
"But I got faith in these guys, that they're gonna work and put the best 12 together and go out there and compete," he added.
Prosper failed to get clearance to play for Indonesia in time for the SEA Games last December.
Without their naturalized player, the Indonesians finished a disappointing fourth in the competition, after back-to-back silver medal finishes. They lost to the Philippines, 97-70, in the semifinals, with Ross putting up 11 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds.
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