After the loss to Iran, Jayson Castro was asked if he thinks Andray Blatche should be brought back to the Gilas Pilipinas pool. The long-time serving point guard of the Philippine national team, who just played his first game back after serving a three-game suspension, paused and thought things through before telling the media to ask him another question instead.
There was nothing wrong with the question. It had to be asked. If there was anybody in a position to talk about how Blatche could help, it would be Castro or Gabe Norwood.
Castro and Norwood have been teammates with Blatche since the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Castro also played with Blatche in other campaigns, such as their silver medal finish in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship, where they scored an impressive victory against Iran led by then head coach Tab Baldwin. The two were also key figures in the country's 4-2 win-loss tally in the first round of the FIBA Asian Qualifiers.
The last picture of these two wearing a Philippine jersey together was the brawl against Australia last July.
Even though Castro and Blatche have long been teammates, Castro opted to remain silent. His refusal to speak said volumes about the current state of the squad.
Castro did not want to undermine Gilas head coach Yeng Guiao. Guiao was adamant about testing an all-local crew first, but after the losses to Kazakhstan and Iran, Castro refused to talk about the naturalized player situation before his coach did.
Castro also did not want to throw Stanley Pringle and Christian Standhardinger under the bus. In the past, it was an easier decision to get Blatche when Baldwin's other option was Moala Tautuaa, who was just about to play his rookie year in the PBA at the time.
It's much tougher this time around with Pringle and Standhardinger both being key factors in Guiao's system.
Castro has also just returned to national team duties and is now part of a new look squad. Chot Reyes and his assistant coaches are all gone. Almost half of the team's composition is also new. The dynamics have also changed and Castro has yet to figure these out.
No one could blame Castro for not wanting to rock the boat that he just boarded. However, for the next couple of months, there will be difficult decisions that will have to be made.
Guiao has floated Justin Brownlee's name as an option but with less than three months remaining before the last window, there may not be time for the naturalization process to play out. Brownlee would be a game-changer and he should fit in easily because of his experience with Philippine basketball. But there may be too many moving pieces for this to work.
Another option is to retain Pringle and Standhardinger. Guiao has split the games between the two players in the last two windows with Pringle playing against Qatar and Kazakhstan and Standhardinger suiting up for both games against Iran. The drawback to this is that their gameplay drastically changes after switches. In a team that's still getting to know each other, having a ball-dominant guard in one game and then an aggressive big man in the next could be dangerous and risky.
Lastly, Guiao could go get Blatche again. Everyone knows what he brings to the table. He is an offensive threat and a defensive presence. Opposing bigs respect his outside shooting and he is quick enough on his feet to be a weak-point for their ball screen defense. Most importantly, he is the perfect compliment to June Mar Fajardo. However, the biggest downside is that he's unfamiliar with Guiao and his system.
Blatche expressed his readiness to return. He even posted a photo on Instagram featuring him, Castro, Terrence Romeo (who was also left out from the recent pool), and Calvin Abueva (who is suspended for the rest of the World Cup Qualifiers), but he'll have to stay ready and wait for a decision to be made.
All of these options bring something to the table, but at the end of the day, it's not about what the players can do but what Guiao needs from them. The stint of the Philippines in the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup is now in peril with the team falling to the fourth spot after Australia, Iran, and Japan. It's good that the PBA made all players available for the pool that Guiao was building, now it's up to the coach to trim this wealth of talent that will produce results.
Many called the last pool the strongest ever, but they went 0-2 in the last window proving yet again that nothing is won on paper.