Gilas Pilipinas has been given the green light to include NLEX Road Warriors star Kiefer Ravena in its 15-man training pool for the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.
Coach Tim Cone bared that the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) obtained approval to add the 26-year-old guard after Jayson Castro went down with a right calf injury that would sideline him for the national team's entire buildup for the biennial meet on December.
"My understanding is the SBP has approved and got the Southeast Asian Games approval to be in the 15-man pool. Whether he makes the final 12 is another question," said Cone. "We still have to remove three players from the pool to go forward. But in the meantime, it's an extra body. It's another talent."
A handful of names were considered for the spot vacated by Castro, but Cone said the staff just "kept coming back to Kiefer."
"We are gonna miss Jayson terribly, but Kiefer has some of that Jayson ability in him. We're going to lose the experience of Jayson but Kiefer got that rare maturity that kind of lends himself to able to play with a bunch of vets and still be a leader and still do the things that he needs to do. I think he's kind of rare that way," described the coach.
Ravena, hampered by a minor back issue, wasn't able to suit up in Gilas' first tuneup game Monday against Alab Pilipinas. While Cone would have wanted to throw the guard into the fire immediately, he nonetheless expressed confidence about Ravena's ability to pick up concepts immediately when he steps on the floor next week.
"I could've played him if he could've played 'cause I think he's a natural. He would've picked up things and played an actual type game that we would want to see," Cone observed. "And Yeng Guiao's offense is very unique, but it's got some of the elements that we're doing. I don't think it'll be a stretch for Kiefer to run our offense. It'll take him a short time to run our offense."
Barring any other setbacks, Ravena is expected to hit the floor for the national team next week.
"Hopefully I can join practice and be able to... I wouldn't say replace, but to step in for a while for kuya Jayson. We're hoping nothing but the best for him," said Ravena
"With coach Tim, I guess that's one big advantage, he's trying to make everybody be on the same page. He has his own way of doing it. This is my moment to absorb everything that I can in terms of learning a lot from coach Tim," he added. "He and I spoke a lot earlier [and told me to] just try to learn from the best. I watched the game and tried to be with them as much as I can, being mentally present so when practice comes, they won't have to adjust to me."
His entry will be a welcome development for the national team, who showed they have yet to hit their stride after barely coming away with a 98-95 win against Alab.
June Mar Fajardo led all scorers there with 21 points, while Roger Pogoy added 15 markers. Stanley Pringle and Vic Manuel tossed in 10 apiece as Gilas dealt with the absence of Troy Rosario, who was nursing a minor Achilles injury.
"Down the stretch, we did what any smart coach would do: we rode June Mar. We jumped on his back, we rode him and he won the game for us down the stretch. He's a big horse, so we might as well ride him. That's gonna be one of our philosophies in the Southeast Asian Games. We're gonna ride June Mar," Cone shared.
Alab managed to put up a lot of fight even though it missed the services of Renaldo Balkman, who sat in street clothes. Louie Vigil, a transfer from the San Miguel Beermen, paved the way for coach Jimmy Alapag's wards with 18 points, while Brandon Rosser chipped in 17.
"We were pretty and at times, we were really ugly. But the team we played is really talented. They are really good. I'm shocked at how good they are. Renaldo Balkman didn't even play. They're a very good team," said Cone.
The depth of talent available should be enough for Gilas to outplay most teams on a nightly basis when the tournament comes, acknowledged the coach, but he reiterated his desire for the team to not fall on that aspect alone and instead develop together as a team -- an area which he says Gilas still has ways to go.
"Our challenge at this point is to make sure we're not an all-star team," Cone said. "We don't wanna play like an all-star team. We gotta bring more than just being a bunch of good players playing together. And that's what all-star teams are. You bring a bunch of guys, they have limited practice, they go out and they play, they don't have any concepts in terms of defense. Not really a real desire play defense. And we wanna get beyond that.
"That's one of the things we talked about before the game: we don't wanna be an all-star team. We need to be better than that. We need to be better than an all-star team. And frankly, all-star teams are not very good. They're not a good team. They're a collection of players, but they're not a good team. We need to be a good team. Whether we can do that in the short window that we have is gonna be our biggest challenge."
Gilas will play another tuneup with Alab next Monday and will now do video work every Thursday. On Nov. 18, they'll play another tuneup game against an import-laden Taiwanese club.