Gilas Pilipinas Men returns to action for the upcoming FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers on November 27 and 30. The latest incarnation of the team features a promising young core that will face Thailand for two games. There is an excitement and anticipation for this new squad boasting collegiate standouts.
Here are a couple of things to watch out for this new Gilas squad:
Who will emerge as the leader of the team?
The Gilas' 15-man roster contains big names and without a doubt are leaders in their respective teams. A team mentored by Tab Baldwin will also definitely instill the "next man up" mentality he often preached for the Ateneo Blue Eagles.
But every team needs a leader both on and off the court. Though it's true that anybody can lead on this squad, it will still be interesting to see who will emerge as the leader/s. It's not about taking the last shot or dominating by merely scoring. Instead, the leader will set the tone for the team from practices, to team meetings, and on the floor against the opposing squad. Think like a Jimmy Alapag, or Gabe Norwood, or a Jayson Castro. Those players came out as leaders in various iterations of Gilas. They were the strong voices on and off the floor and led by example through their work ethic and selfless play. Even past their prime, they were the perfect ambassadors for the program. Who can be like an Alapag or Norwood five years from now who can inspire teammates both on the hardwood and on the locker room? The emergence of leaders will be an exciting development for this young squad.
How will the new players fair in international competition?
As much as there is the trap of inexperience that comes with a young team, there is still the promise of potential. Newcomers like Kemark Carino, Calvin Oftana, and Rey Suerte have a chance to showcase their skills on a much larger scale than before. They are hard working players who can work well under coach Jong Uichico. In Gilas' last game back in February versus Indonesia, it was Thirdy Ravena who shone the brightest with 23 points and eight rebounds. Even though the team had veteran players like Kiefer Ravena, Roger Pogoy, and Troy Rosario, it was the young gun that had the chance to flourish.
What's great about this team also is that most of them actually have international experience under their belt. Whether it's in the Jones Cup, FIBA 3x3, Batang Gilas, or even the Gilas seniors team, a number of these standouts have represented the country before. For instance, Dave Ildefonso was practically a veteran in his last U-18 and U-19 stints and he'll be raring to go against older competition.
What can Coach Boyet Fernandez bring to the table?
Among the new faces in the Gilas campaign is San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez who will serve as an assistant, working alongside Jong Uichico, Tab Baldwin, and Alton Lister. Fernandez, of course, was a national team player himself when he suited up for the 1991 SEA Games and 2002 Asian Games. He had a successful pro career in the PBA before turning to coaching. The decorated mentor has four NCAA championships, eight PBA D-League titles, and a PBA Philippine Cup trophy. He is a winner through and through and he will carry with him that mentality for Gilas.
Fernandez will also offer a different set of eyes for the national team. The Red Lions aren't a powerhouse in the NCAA by sheer talent alone, but also through meticulous coaching and scouting. Fernandez could be seen studying opponents on every NCAA game day up in the rafters of the arena. His work ethic and competitive spirit will do wonders for this young Gilas team.
Is this a preview for the 2023 World Cup?
A lot can change till the 2023 World Cup and the players in the roster will certainly change. However, the way that this team was put together - all young players who can be developed - is certainly something that can be built on. Tab Baldwin has a vision for the Gilas program and that foresight will be critical if we want to have a successful World Cup campaign. The biggest names and the brightest stars do not guarantee anything in international competition, but having chemistry and preparation does. This isn't to say that PBA stars like June Mar Fajardo or CJ Perez, or even guys outside the pool like Kai Sotto can't suit up when the time comes. But the longevity of a young core playing in various FIBA tournaments matter. If around eight players stay through 2023 in this 16-man pool (including Ange Kouame), that will be a huge plus.
It's foolish to put added pressure on this team, saying that they will one day be the faces for the World Cup. However, the idea of keeping a Gilas team intact for two to three years will be beneficial for the program moving forward.