SBP to appoint interim coach for Gilas Pilipinas for next FIBA Asia Cup window

Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) president Al Panlilio said an interim coach will call the shots for Gilas Pilipinas for the first window of the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers.

Panlilio said there isn't enough time to appoint a head coach for Gilas' games against Thailand and Indonesia this February.

"We are not ready to announce the full-time coach for February for sure. But the next window is November. It gives us time now to set up the right coach moving forward. It has to be a full-time coach for the program," he said Saturday.

Panlilio added that SBP will pick from the current crop of PBA coaches to temporarily handle the team in its Feb. 20 and 23 assignments.

This means coach Tim Cone, which handled Gilas in a gold medal run during the 30th Southeast Asian Games, could hold down the fort once more, although Panlilio made note of how the Barangay Ginebra coach is currently preoccupied with the Gin Kings' ongoing finals campaign in the Governors' Cup.

"All coaches are always in consideration but they have commitments to the ball clubs that they have today. Ang usapan kasi [our agreement] with Tim is just the SEA Games. Now, he is also busy with the Finals. But it's time to start the journey to 2023," he said.

"The interim are the coaches in the PBA. I think it has to be a full-time coach at the end of the day. Maybe the interim is one of the existing coach we know today who'll just do it for the window."

Once the first window is out of the way, SBP will be able to focus on getting a permanent head coach that will spearhead the team's preparations for the 2023 World Cup.

Gilas program director Tab Baldwin will also be involved in the search, though Panlilio clarified that the Ateneo head coach might not be in the running for the position.

"For us, from an SBP point of view, we need to appoint a full-time coach for the program," said Panlilio. "Tab is helping in the program. I don't think he's interested to coach, but he wants to be part of the development of the program. He will be suggesting names also."

"That's another task we need to do: we need to have a real search. I have been getting a lot of applications and feelers. We'll put it together and Ricky Vargas is asking to help me with the search. Hopefully we can tap on some firms that can help us with the search, aside from people who are already applying," he added. "Hopefully by November [we can name the coach]. It gives us more time to prepare."

As for the team composition, Panlilio said the SBP is moving on from Andray Blatche as naturalized player and will tap in his place either NorthPort center Christian Standhardinger or Ginebra guard Stanley Pringle.

"Andray has helped us a lot in the past but I think it's time we move on from him," said Panlilio. "My objective is to have two to three names as a pool for naturalized players to lessen the risk kung magka-injury man [if there are any injuries]. So, that's a process also."

Panlilio said they are also looking into recruiting Hawaii-based 16-year-old 7-footer Sage Tolentino and later adding 7-2 center Kai Sotto, who is training with The Skills Factory in Atlanta, and 6-10 AJ Edu, who is recovering from an ACL injury he sustained in the under-19 World Cup last year.

"We reached out to [Tolentino] to see his interest. Imagine if you have him and Kai ... when was the last time we had two Filipinos over 7 feet in one team?" said Panlilio. "We have to reach out to him."

Five PBA rookies -- Isaac Go, Matt and Mike Nieto, Rey Suerte, and Allyn Bulanadi -- were named to the Gilas pool right before the 2019 PBA Draft. They were later joined by Ateneo's Thirdy Ravena and UP's JD Tungcab, who were tapped by the SBP late last year. All seven will participate with the national team in the first window's roster, which will be augmented by PBA players as the team continues to figure out a long-term core.

"We should be starting right now, but maybe in the latter part of the month or a week we can start the ball rolling and identify certain names who we can put in the pool," said Panlilio. "[We're] playing Thailand and Indonesia. I think we can form a team that will be competitive. The next window [in November] is Korea and Thailand, so that's the more critical window for us where we feel that, really, the program should be in full strength."

Adding pros to the pool, according to Panlilio, is only a temporary fix until SBP is able to build a dedicated team that it could bring to the US for training in preparation for the 2023 global meet.

"We have to develop players e. Ang mangyayari [what will happen] is the same," said Panlilio. Preparation time won't be there kasi tumatakbo pa 'yung tournament [the tournament is still running]. Two weeks lang nabigay kay Tim Cone, two weeks lang after the semis niya nakuha yung team. Hindi na pwede 'yung ganun. [Only two weeks were given to Tim and the team was handed to him only two weeks after the semis. That can't happen again.] We saw the weakness of that formula already.

"The SBP is now given the opportunity to increase the pool every year, draft players, add players, and the SBP will decide with the team moving forward. It's about continuity, of players playing together, competing, exposing themselves in international competition, and hoping they become better for the national team. The objective of the national team is we can show development, that we'll be better than the last time. Hopefully with the continued support of the PBA, we can develop the team that can prepare us for 2023."

The federation president, however, acknowledged that PBA players may not be completely out of the equation in three years.

"How can you not consider a June Mar Fajardo? That time, 31 pa lang siya [he'll only be 31]. That's the peak of his career. How could you not consider a multiple-time MVP of this league? Again, I'm not a coach, but from a concept point of view, you have to consider players like that," he said. "In 2023, do we augment with PBA players? Maybe yes, maybe two, three players will be critical, but that's one of the options. We're starting now."