The 20-man Gilas pool announced Tuesday for the fifth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers is easily one of the most loaded in years. We thought it would be good to discuss this, so we once again brought in Chuck Araneta, Charlie Cuna, Carlo Pamintuan, Jutt Sulit, and Noel Zarate to tackle a few questions.
1. In one word, this 20-man Gilas pool is...
Chuck: Monstrous. It's a great example of just how much talent there is in basketball in the Philippines today. The sheer number of shooters, guards and big men give Gilas roster flexibility that a basketball nut in the country could only dream of.
Charlie: Intriguing. There are so many different combinations possible from the plethora of talent, which makes Coach Yeng's job both enjoyable and difficult at the same time.
Carlo: Deep. All positions are loaded. As PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial said, coach Yeng's pool is the entire PBA roster and the Board of Governors certainly delivered an impressive group
Jutt: Loaded. It's packed with superstars, stacked at every position and overflowing with talent. It actually feels like a dream come true. There's a lot of 'I hope he plays for Gilas one day' and 'imagine if those two are teammates' that comes into reality with this pool. The promise it brings is something we really needed after all the turmoil our national team went through earlier this year.
Noel: Well-rounded. It has all the necessary ingredients for success; youth, experience, height, speed and range. The addition of Ricci Rivero and Kai Sotto is also a great move to help the next generation transition to 2023. Solid mix.
2. Andray Blatche's absence is...
Chuck: Surprising, but not totally unexpected. Christian Standhardinger turned heads with how amazing he looked versus Iran, while Stanley Pringle's athleticism dominated against Qatar in the second half. Dray had all the opportunities to show that he was the best player on the floor for Gilas, but that never seemed to be convincing. There's still a need for him definitely, but Coach Yeng Guiao has always prioritized continuity over overwhelming talent.
Charlie: Not surprising. While I still believe he is our best big man to have against Iran, his availability for only that game (due to suspension) and his penchant for having to work his way back into shape and tendency to play better in the back end of a two-game FIBA window made the options of already ready C-Stan or Stan the Man more logical at this point.
Carlo: Understandable. Although his presence could have been welcome for the game against Iran, as he knows how to contend with their big men, flying him to Manila and hoping he builds good enough chemistry to the new iteration of the squad might not have been worth it only for a single game.
Jutt: Sensible. Dray has brought a lot of glory to our country. He will always be a Filipino. He will always be Gilas. However, we must admit that he has no longer looked like the dominant Blatche that led us in Seville. He remains dependable and it was nice to see him try to protect his teammates in that unfortunate incident versus Australia, but this is the story of naturalized players. You're as good as your last performance. And with the emergence of Christian Standhardinger, the snobbing of Dray was foreseeable.
Noel: Expected. Christian Standhardinger has been proving himself to be quite the revelation and he won't cost extra to bring in. The eligibility of Greg Slaughter puts more ceiling in the pool and the return of June Mar Fajardo and Japeth Aguilar quashes the reason Blatche was brought in in the first place. Blatche is still the best big man Gilas has, but with a committee of giants that can be interchangeable (and only four games to go) Coach Yeng made an understandable choice.
3. What I like the most about this pool is...
Chuck: The roster flexibility in case of injuries or extenuating circumstances. Suddenly next man up doesn't seem so scary.
Charlie: Its immense talent. Name the position, these are some of the best players in the country. Of course we know that individual talent will not cut it in today's FIBA universe, but, hopefully, their collective basketball IQ is high enough all around to come up with a formidable TEAM.
Carlo: Height. Sporting a frontline of Fajardo, Slaughter, Aguilar, and Standhardinger is a dream, especially going up against Iran. the possibility of adding Kai Sotto into the Final 12 to test of how the young guy responds could be very interesting as well.
Jutt: It's sensational and transitional at the same time. Everyone is raving about how star-studded this pool is. But it also serves another purpose - slowly bringing in the next crop of cagers that will represent the country. Imagine how much Kai Sotto will learn from June Mar Fajardo and Ian Sangalang in practice. Think about Ricci Rivero getting point guard pointers from Jayson Castro and Paul Lee, while learning to use his length and athleticism from Gabe Norwood.
Noel: The diversity. Guiao can choose to go young and fast against Kazakhstan (led by "naturalized" guard Stanley Pringle) or grizzled and huge (starring "naturalized" center Christian Standhardinger) against Iran. He may even have the two teenagers in the final 12 against Kazakhstan just to see how they blend in (imagine Rivero under the tutelage of Paul Lee and Scottie Thompson while Sotto jams with the aforementioned bigs). The addition of veterans like LA Tenorio and Arwind Santos gives the pool an extra sense of maturity that could be vital especially against the Iranians on December 3.
4. Aside from Blatche, I wonder why ___ is not in the pool.
Chuck: Terrence Romeo.
Charlie: Sorry, no wondering from me. RR Pogoy would certainly be there if he weren't still suspended. His absence is the only one (aside from Dray's) that me made think a little when I first heard the announcement of Coach Yeng.
Carlo: The most obvious absences here are Terrence Romeo and Allein Maliksi, two former members of the squad. However, with the depth that this squad has in both their positions, it's easy to understand. At the point guard spot, coach Yeng already has Castro, Cabagnot, Lee, Pringle, and Tenorio. At the small forward spot, there's Norwood, Lassiter, Wright, and even Thompson. Coach Yeng could have loaded the pool with more talent but there are only 12 spots in the final roster anyway.
Jutt: The easy answer would be Terrence Romeo. Even though he has been inconsistent with his involvement in the national team, you'd usually want to have the option of fielding in the best scorer in the country. Then again, it's Coach Yeng Guiao at the helm now. We all know he's the guy who'd rather take five points from 10 players than get 50 from one.
Noel: Many will say Terrence Romeo, but I will go with Raymond Almazan. Sure, Standhardinger, Fajardo, Slaughter, Aguilar, Erram, Sotto and (against Iran) Troy Rosario could be more than enough to choose from, but take away Almazan's off court issues against his club team, he has blossomed into one of the more versatile frontliners in the country. His additional range would have had him stretching defenses and his defensive prowess could have served as a great backup role to the team's elite giants. Almazan is hopefully still on Guiao's mind come the sixth window.
5. True or false: this is the strongest national team ever assembled since the PBA was formed.
Chuck: False, only because I'm reserving judgement until we actually see what the final 12 is like.
Charlie: False. It may be the most talent-laden pool of players from which to choose (debatable), but to brand this the strongest national team ever is not only unfair to these guys due to the undue pressure it may cause, but also the start of a never-ending debate about teams from different eras with different achievements. This one hasn't even achieved anything yet. Let's revisit this question in the future.
Carlo: On paper, this may be true but the real measure of any team is not who was in it or how it was formed but the results that it produced. So as of now, I'd say this is false. Call me nostalgic but I remain to be a big fan of the 1998 Centennial Team and the 2014 World Cup Team. However, if this team impresses against Kazakhstan and Iran, then there could be a discussion.
Jutt: Hmmm, this is quite difficult. I would say it's one of the star-studded, but maybe not the strongest ever. There were really great teams in the 1990's and 2000's, and of course, that 2013 team the bought our ticket to Spain. It is with hesitation that I daresay false.
Noel: Since the open basketball era in 1989, yes.