The Batang Gilas players and coaches are making their final preparations before they fly out to Thailand next week for the 2018 FIBA U18 Asian Championship.
With a frontline boasting of AJ Edu and Kai Sotto, this incarnation of the Gilas youth team hopes to make an immediate impact on the international stage.
"It's really hard to expect anything in terms of results or things like that but I will say this: I expect all these guys to play their best and to work their hardest," coach Josh Reyes said in a team practice backed by Smart on Saturday night at Kerry Sports in Taguig. "That's the expectation we have from everybody to really give their all for the country and for the team."
Unfortunately, Batang Gilas was dealt a huge blow already as Reyes announced that versatile big man Carl Tamayo of the NU Bullpups will not be going to Thailand.
"He begged off," bared Reyes. Tamayo, who is also a 23 for 2023 Gilas Cadet, recently played in the U17 World Cup in Argentina.
"It's not bone spurs," Reyes clarified. "It's best to ask our PT (physical trainer) about the injury, but it's not bone spurs. Definitely too young to have bone spurs, but feeling pain in his foot, lots of discomfort. After discussing with his coaches, just by the information given to us, he can't go."
With Tamayo out, Reyes will employ a 12-man lineup when the U18 Asian Championship kicks off on August 5. Joining Edu and Sotto are four players who competed in Argentina: Gerry Abadiano of NU, Bismarck Lina of UST, Raven Cortez of La Salle Zobel, and Geo Chiu of Ateneo. They will be backed by the solid additions of NU's Joshua Ramirez, San Beda's Rhayyan Amsali, FEU's Xyrus Torres, college players Miguel Oczon and Dave Ildefonso of the NU Bulldogs, and Dalph Panopio from Italy.
Much has been said about the size and length of this squad because of the frontcourt combination of Edu and Sotto, but Reyes believes that their guards will be vital in their campaign.
"I think the backcourt is the most crucial part of this team. We have size, yes, but if our guards or shooters are not able to get the ball inside, then there's no use if we're big," the young coach said, also mentioning that they had difficulty in the World Cup because opposing teams would use their length and athleticism to crowd the Filipino guards and slow down the offense.
Panopio, a 6-foot-1 point guard from Italy, will make his Gilas debut. But pressure won't be all on him as he will be joined by the strong-bodied Abadiano, and versatile wing players and shooters like Oczon, Torres, Ramirez, and Ildefonso.
"I can tell you this, huge part of our success will be how our guards can really man this team, be the catalyst of everything," Reyes pointed out.
The only apprehension for Reyes is that their competition has the edge in terms of experience and chemistry. He shared that U18 teams from Japan, Korea, Australia, and China, have been preparing for quite some time.
"That's my only concern," he admitted. "How will we bridge that gap? We're finding ways. And I trust the guys, the players that I have now, to be able to find ways to hasten the buildup of this team."
Fortunately, a number of players already have experience playing together from the U16 tournament earlier this year and of course from the U17 World Cup earlier this month.
"I think we're seeing the benefits of it even though the practices haven't been continuous," Reyes said on the value of previous competitions. "I believe we should have more of that in the future so that we'll have continuity and familiarity with each other."
The U18 Batang Gilas squad will fly out to Thailand on August 3 and will face Lebanon in their opener on August 5, followed by United Arab Emirates on August 6, and China on August 7.