Editor's note: To mark 10 years of the Gilas Pilipinas program, ESPN5.com will be publishing a "Gilas series" with one article a day for the next 11 days. We start with the timeline of the Gilas program.
Ever since the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) definitively unified basketball in the archipelago, the formation and training of the national team has been among its top priorities.
The main mandate early on was to avoid forming a team by plucking players from the PBA with just a short preparation time heading into major international tournaments. The SBP leadership devised a program that would have a pool of players dedicate themselves for just competing in FIBA tilts akin to the developmental efforts many countries such follow around the world.
The program was initially named "Smart Gilas Pilipinas", with wireless telecommunications giant Smart at the forefront of the funding efforts for the endeavor.
The Gilas program was to be the reincarnation of its predecessor Northern Consolidated Cement (NCC) bankrolled by Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco and spearheaded by American mentor Ron Jacobs in the 1980s where a select group of college players reinforced by naturalization candidates would be under a long term undertaking that would be the core of the national team and not turn pro for flag and country.
Among the long-time members of this program were Hector Calma, Yves Dignadice, Samboy Lim, Allan Caidic and Elmer Reyes.
Smart Gilas Pilipinas first emerged in late 2009 with Philippine collegiate standouts like Chris Tiu, Mark Barroca, JVee Casio and Dylan Ababou leading the selectees. The core was eventually joined by Filipino-American standouts Greg Slaughter, Chris Lutz and Marcio Lassiter with former Iran head coach Rajko Toroman brought in to guide the team. The program also sought several candidates for naturalization with the likes of CJ Giles, Milan Vucicevic and eventually Marcus Douthit tapped to see if they would be a good fit for the mission of qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics. This three-year program had only that as its goal.
Today, known as Gilas Pilipinas, the program has now surpassed Jacobs' in terms of longevity and-despite many tweaks in the process-has been the catalyst for the Philippines' major advancement in the international realm as among the top five nations in the continent.
Here's the Gilas timeline.
2009 - Smart Gilas Pilipinas officially launches with Serbian Rajko Toroman at the helm of the pool composed of Philippine college standouts, several Filipino-American candidates and landing American center Marcus Douthit-who would have a long tenure with the squad. During the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship, PBA players Jimmy Alapag, Kelly Williams, Gabe Norwood, Ranidel de Ocampo and Asi Taulava were brought in to reinforce the quintet but it still failed to qualify for the London Olympiad after finishing fourth.
2012 - Gilas Pilipinas 2.0 became the next generation of the program, this time leaning more towards a partnership with the PBA which allowed its best players to be part of a pool to undergo long term training. The new mission was to qualify for the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball by finishing in the top three of the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship. Original hosts Lebanon pulled out of its duties to host the biennial event and the Philippines was-at short notice-awarded the hosting rights. Curiously, no one from the youngsters in Smart Gilas advanced to Gilas 2.0. Chot Reyes was named head coach and eventually led the Philippines to a silver medal finish in 2013 to get a berth for the Worlds for the first time since 1986. NBA veteran Andray Blache became the new naturalized reinforcement for the national team.
2014 - Gilas 3.0 still had remnants of the Gilas 2.0 incarnation but with former Jordan national team mentor Tab Baldwin now at the helm. Baldwin would steer the Philippines to another silver medal finish in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship in Changsha, China but would fail to qualify outright for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics as only the winner would represent the Asian region in the men's basketball competition. The Philippines was fortunate to be able to host one of the three Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQT) in 2016 but fell winless in its group against France and New Zealand and once again missed the Olympiad.
2016 - Gilas Cadets was a program institutionalized as the new developmental program designed to rely less on the PBA for FIBA competitions which were now practically year-round. The new group of budding college stars led by the Far Eastern University's Mac Belo, Carl Bryan Cruz, Mike Tolomia, Roger Pogoy and Arellano University's Jio Jalalon formed the nucleus of the new Gilas "Cadet" pool and initially emerged triumphant in the 2016 SEABA but failed miserably in the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge prompting the SBP to reinstate Reyes. The two programs now operated simultaneously with Reyes handling Gilas Pilipinas while long time deputy Jong Uichico took the reins for the Gilas Cadets.
2018 - Gilas and the new FIBA World Cup qualifying process saw the format change to a home-and-away format, adapted after FIFA's World Cup qualifying process. With Reyes still at the helm to begin the tournament, Gilas won its first two games: away in Japan and at home versus Chinese Taipei before losing on the road to newcomer Australia (FIBA Oceania merged with Asia) in the first set of group stage matches. Already qualified for the next round after trouncing its first two victims anew, the Philippines hosted the Boomers in the final tiff of the group stages when the now infamous brawl erupted that suspended more than half of the team and Reyes as well. Former national team coach Yeng Guiao took over and still got Gilas to qualify for the 2019 FIBA World Cup.
2019 - Gilas lost all its preliminary round encounters en route to a last place finish, marking its worst performance since hosting the tournament in 1978. Shortly afterwards, Guiao formally resigned as head coach. After a dismal showing, the SBP wanted to rebuild the program but before that tapped 1998 Centennial team mentor Tim Cone to handle the Philippines' gold medal quest in the Manila SEA Games. The PBA held a "special draft" for five amateur standouts who would form the core of the new Gilas pool, namely Isaac Go, Matt and Mike Nieto, Allyn Bulanadi, and Rey Suerte. Later on, the SBP added Thirdy Ravena and Jaydee Tungcab.
2020 - Baldwin's return this time as Gilas Program Director also had the SBP looking into the future as the Philippines prepares for the co-hosting of the 2023 FIBA World Cup. The COVID-19 pandemic put a temporary halt to the program which now brings in perhaps the youngest core of talent since the Jacobs days with collegians Ravena, Go, Juan Gomez de Liaño and the Nieto brothers now seeing early action on the international stage, suiting up for Gilas in the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers under new head coach Mark Dickel. In February, a Gilas team composed of PBA players and amateur standouts and coached by Dickel beat Indonesia, 100-70, in a 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifier. The tournament was put on hold shortly afterwards due to the coronavirus pandemic.