Composition of Gilas squad for FIBA bubble remains uncertain

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 22 2020 11:25 AM

Gilas Pilipinas has played just one qualifying game for the FIBA Asia Cup 2021. FIBA.basketball

MANILA, Philippines -- Gilas Pilipinas program director Tab Baldwin welcomed the upcoming resumption of FIBA qualifying games, even as he admitted that the national team's composition for the November window is still up in the air.

FIBA announced on Friday that it will resume the November 2020 and February 2021 qualifiers for its continental competitions, including the FIBA Asia Cup. The Philippines played just one game in the qualifiers so far, a 100-70 win over Indonesia back in February.

Instead of the home-and-away format, the games for the qualifying windows will now be held in a bubble. FIBA has yet to announce the hosts as well as the number of teams competing in each bubble, however.

"I'm just happy to see that more parts of the world are starting to come back online, if I could use that terminology," Baldwin told reporters on Monday.

"The fact that FIBA wants to do it in November is a little bit of a surprise, but let's view it as a pleasant surprise that we're gonna get back to playing basketball," he added. "Hopefully, we can be part of the landscape of returning the world to some sort of normalcy." 

The timing of the resumption, however, poses a problem for Gilas Pilipinas. The PBA is set to restart its own season by October 9, and the conference is expected to run until December. Thus, professional players will not be available for the November window.

In February, seven PBA players -- Kiefer Ravena, Abu Tratter, Poy Erram, Justin Chua, Roger Pogoy, CJ Perez, and Troy Rosario -- bolstered a young Gilas squad that featured cadets. 

Fielding a team of entirely cadet players is all but impossible, according to Baldwin. As it stands, the national team only has five full-time cadets -- Isaac Go, Matt and Mike Nieto, Rey Suerte, and Allyn Bulanadi. 

The five players were selected in a special draft last December and loaned to the Gilas program.

"We don't have enough cadets to fill out a roster," Baldwin acknowledged. "We can't play with five players. Six, if we include JD (Tungcab), seven if we are allowed to get Thirdy (Ravena). That right now is our Gilas pool." 

Three other players were "co-opted," in Baldwin's own words: brothers Juan and Javi Gomez de Liano of the University of the Philippines, and Dwight Ramos of Ateneo de Manila University.

"There's nothing to say that we might not be able to do that again, amongst other players," said Baldwin.

Thus, the national team's composition for the November qualifying window remains uncertain. It's not the only thing that has yet to be decided. Baldwin pointed out that they also have to discuss who coaches the team as well as how they will manage the bubble, to say nothing of the training of the squad. 

"We are as ready with as many scenarios that we have discussed, that you can possibly imagine," he said. "But which one of those scenarios will ultimately be the one that we have to confront?"

"We just can't make decisions right now because we don't know exactly what the landscape is," he added. 

The final decision of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) will ultimately hinge on the word of FIBA as well as that of the Philippine government, and the country that will wind up hosting the bubbles.

"It's gonna be interesting to see how that plays out," said Baldwin. "It's just so early to be able to make any definitive statements on what will be. But, in general, I'm pleased that we're gonna be back playing basketball soon."