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What we learned from the Gilas Pilipinas-Thailand games

FIBA.com

The new Gilas Pilipinas Men team did an impressive job in the second window of the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers, sweeping Thailand in two games. The young squad definitely lived up to the hype and rose to the challenge of being the next face of the national team.

As Gilas shifts its focus to the next window, it's apt that we take the time to assess how some of the stars fared. Though all the Gilas players played splendidly in the two blowout games versus Thailand, there were those who shone a little bit brighter than the rest.

Here are a few takeaways from Gilas' second window:

Dwight Ramos is a star

The last two Gilas games was a coming out party for Dwight Ramos. He had a perfect game in the first bout against the Thais, going 7-for-7 from the field, including 2-for-2 from beyond the arc and four made free throws for 20 points. He also had 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals as if he played effortless basketball. Though he became mortal in the second game with 13 points on 4-for-10 shooting, he was still a significant factor on both ends of the floor.

It's hard to believe that the guy has yet to play in college and yet he's already a key member of the national team after three games (5 points in 16 minutes versus Indonesia during the first round). You could tell that he has the build and the smarts to dominate a game. He can crash the boards against other bigs, run the offense with ease, and score when needed.

And although Tab Baldwin will be the first to tell you that his teams are not built on individuals and star power, Dwight Ramos fits well into his system. He's listed as 6-foot-4 meaning he could compete on the glass, but he also has the speed and handles of a quick guard. He has a great feel for the game and will bode well for the future of Gilas.

Gomez de Liaño brothers belong on national stage

Juan and Javi Gomez de Liaño played like they had something to prove. Juan's playmaking and shotmaking were on full display and he looked like a natural at the point guard position. Javi, meanwhile, was on turbo mode the moment he stepped on the court. He was quick and aggressive, but was never careless or out of control. He picked his spots and did a little bit of everything well.

Juan had a combined 26 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, and just 3 turnovers in the two games versus Thailand. And of course, Javi was a machine in the second game, as he dropped 19 points on a 7-for-8 clip.

The two UP standouts opted to not finish out their playing years in the UAAP (but did not close the door on a possible return) and played with a chip on their shoulders for Gilas. They were already big names in the collegiate wars and they continued to harness their craft over the past year. Juan definitely improved his playmaking and timing while Javi transformed himself into a dependable wing scorer. They were already great before, but they've taken their game to the next level on the national stage.

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The improvement of the frontline: Justine Baltazar and Calvin Oftana

If you've been closely paying attention to the career of Justine Baltazar, you could attest to how much he's elevated his game year after year. As an NU Bullpup and then as DLSU Green Archer, he's continuously showed he can add facets to his game. Now as a Gilas center, he displayed that he could handle international big men. Granted that Thailand doesn't have imposing centers, Baltazar still did pretty well against Chanatip Jakrawan and other post players. He knew how to use his length to bother shots at the rim and his footwork was impeccable.

Of course, there will be better, taller, and stronger players than Jakrawan, but Baltazar has the tools of a defensive stopper. Plus, he's proven that he's more than capable of scoring in the post, highlighted by his 12-point outing in the first game.

As for Calvin Oftana, it was amazing to see how much he was ready to contribute the moment he got subbed in. After not playing in the first game, he went on to register nine points (all from beyond the arc), four rebounds, and four assists in 15 minutes. He was also a gem defensively with a steal and a block. He played a little bit rushed at times, but it proved that he wasn't afraid of the moment. There were no nerves from being called up as he delivered immediately.

Oftana was named the NCAA MVP in Season 95 with averages of 15.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.2 blocks. He wasn't a nobody coming into the Gilas program. However, people can forget that in Season 94 when he was playing behind Javee Mocon, he produced just 4.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 0.4 assists in just 10.8 minutes of playing time. It just goes to show you how hardworking this kid is and what he can do once he's been given the spotlight. He'll still improve and you can be sure that he'll be ready once his name gets called up once again.

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Honorable mentions

There's always a challenge in trying to produce solid numbers in international competition. Everybody has a role to play and playing time can be limited. Matchups and the opposition's playing style also matter. And as for the case of this new Gilas team, having been inactive the last several months might have also been an issue. These aren't excuses, but merely factors for different players. That being said, standouts Matt Nieto, Rey Suerte, Isaac Go, and Kobe Paras played well enough when they were on the floor.

Scorer Rey Suerte poured 9 points in 20 minutes in the first game but only 4 points in 11 minutes in the next. He was slapped with two early fouls and didn't really get his flow. You have to appreciate, however, the fearlessness of Suerte. He knows that his primary job is to put the ball in the hoop and he did what he could. In two games, he went 5-of-13 from the field and 1-for-7 from downtown. He has a green light to shoot and he's one of those players that doesn't mind if he missed his previous shot.

As for Matt Nieto and Isaac Go, two cornerstones of Ateneo's championship team, they ran the system of coach Jong Uichico and coach Tab Baldwin to the best of their abilities. Nieto was injured in the second game, but before he went down, he was the catalyst that allowed Gilas to break away. He was a plus-25 in the first game despite scoring only four points, and then he had 12 points and missed only two shots on eight attempts for an encore. He was a steady presence on the floor for this young Gilas team. Go, on the other hand, had a shaky opening game but bounced back with nine points and 11 boards in 20 minutes of play come the second night. He knew how to position himself in the post and got second chance opportunities for the team.

Kobe Paras was among those who played a ton of minutes in the two games. He played 21 minutes on Friday and then had 18 on Monday. His combined stat line of 2-for-13 for just 7 points is an eyesore, especially coming from his incredible showing in the UAAP the year before. But this version of Kobe is already way better than his 2017 SEA Games version. In Kuala Lumpur, his body language was all over the place, and tried to force his way into the game.

Fast-forward to three years later, he looks less pressured on the floor and simply enjoyed the moment. Before the FIBA Qualifiers, he said he was going to showcase his all-around game. Forget the fact that he only scored a handful of points, but he was an important player in the lineup. He used his size, speed, and basketball IQ on both ends of the floor. Paras will be a significant contributor to the national team with or without the big stat line or highlight dunks.