SBP president Al Panlilio sees mix of Gilas cadets, PBA players for 2023 World Cup

Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) president Al Panlilio said the federation's work with the cadet-laden Gilas Pilipinas training pool is catered for a long-term outlook that stretches past the 2023 FIBA World Cup, even as he stressed the need to still tap PBA players for big events on the world stage.

"It's really about the sustainability of the program. I want to look at it long-term beyond 2023," said Panlilio on the Power & Play radio show by former PBA commissioner Noli Eala. "Of course we want to compete well in 2023 since we're hosting it here, we want to make sure we want to compete well. But our thinking in the national program is long-term. I think if we can develop that pool of players, then we have more options, we have more choices."

Once the members of the current pool reach their potential, Gilas will certainly be spoiled for choice while assembling teams for future FIBA tournaments.

But for big tournaments, like the World Cup proper, Panlilio insisted that a mix of young stars and PBA veterans will still be the way to go.

"We can find a way to inject this program with the best players in the country. It's really developing this young core of PBA players, make them battle-ready, and if you inject them with three, four, five veterans, eventually I think we can be very competitive internationally," he said. "I think we can see a split between the cadets and the PBA players -- six-six, or seven-five," Panlilio added.

Currently composing the pool are collegiate standouts De La Salle's Justine Baltazar; Ateneo's Dwight Ramos and Dave Ildefonso, as well as LeBron Lopez, SJ Belangel, Gian Mamuyac, Troy Mallillin, Geo Chiu, Kyle Ong, Jason Credo and Josh Lazaro; Carl Tamayo of University of the Philippines; and RJ Abarrientos of Far Eastern University.

Also included in the camp are 46th PBA season special Gilas draftees Jordan Heading, Will Navarro, Tzaddy Rangel and William Navarro; 2019 Gilas selections Isaac Go, Rey Suerte, and twins Matt and Mike Nieto; naturalized player candidate Ange Kouame; and former practice player Chris Koon.

Training has yet to resume at the Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna as the SBP continues to wait for the massive surge of COVID-19 cases to abate.

Gilas previously fielded an all-amateur team in a FIBA tournament last November, when the national team swept both games against Thailand in the second window of the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers in Bahrain.

"We also got accolades from FIBA secretary-general Andreas Zagklis for this program that we have. In fact, they were very impressed with our performance in Bahrain because these were young players competing against men," shared Panlilio.

In the meantime, SBP will get the chance to throw members of the young pool into the fire in the near future, as Gilas is set to compete in a pair of big tourneys this June.

Before Gilas heads on to Belgrade, Serbia to battle the hosts and Dominican Republic in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT), the first test will come in the final window of the Asia Cup Qualifiers to be hosted in Clark, Pampanga. There, a young Nationals squad will play against rivals South Korea twice and Indonesia.

Games of Group A, B and C, which were originally slated last February before the coronavirus pandemic threw a wrench in FIBA's plans, will be held inside a bubble that takes after the PBA's setup for the 2020 Philippine Cup.

"It's our way of being part of the basketball family of FIBA. It's our way of helping FIBA make the activities happen," Panlilio said of the hosting. "We really wanted it to happen in February, but at the time our government could not allow us because of the issues. So we had to sort of say that we couldn't do it. Then Doha cancelled.

"We've always been in touch with the IATF - in fairness to them, they've been very, very helpful to us -- and when we asked if maybe there's a possibility to bring it back in June, they said yes," Panlilio continued.

Panlilio is admittedly concerned over the continued rise of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines, but he is banking on stringent health protocols laid out both by the SBP and FIBA ahead of the hosting.

"Although we've indicated to FIBA that times are uncertain, we are committed to host in June," he said.

"At the end of the day, our main priority is to keep everybody safe," Panlilio continued. "FIBA has been very, very strict also. They require all teams to be on quarantine even before they leave. They do testing before we leave. So we're assured that when they come here, they're really safe. Plus of course, the environment we will create there is really similar to the PBA bubble, and we've learned a lot from the PBA and we will do the same thing."