People are still talking about SJ Belangel's game-winning three from Wednesday night that gave Gilas Pilipinas an epic 81-78 victory over Korea in the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers in Angeles City. But what else stood out from this game? ESPN5.com's Chuck Araneta breaks it down.
1. Each and every player on the team knows his role.
One of the big questions heading into the third window of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers was if the Philippines had enough talent to hang with powerhouse squads like Korea as there is not a single PBA player on the roster for this iteration of the national team. Although we have sent young squads to FIBA tournaments in the past, they usually come with two to three veterans who serve as anchors and go-to players.
This team need not follow in the footsteps of those teams, though, and that's because it's filled with role players who understand their purpose in the system devised by program director and head coach Tab Baldwin.
The term "role player" might be looked down on, particularly when everyone wants to watch superstars. But in the international game, where there are only 40 minutes and every possession's value increases significantly, having players who are ready to do what's asked of them and not anything extra is incredibly important.
Just look at RJ Abarrientos who made his mark in the second period, when the Philippines seemed to be stuck in the mud on offense no thanks Korea's defense that was so disciplined. And so, coach Tab summoned Abarrientos to come in, speed up the tempo, and attack relentlessly.
The nephew of Philippine basketball legend Johnny Abarrientos did just that, scoring six points in the first half and finishing with 13 minutes played. It wasn't as much as Gilas' expected contributors, but his impact was nonetheless invaluable heading into halftime because it gave the momentum they needed for the comeback.
William Navarro is another example. He was scoreless in 18 minutes of play, yet finished with the second highest +- in the game at +9. How did this happen? Navarro's familiarity with Baldwin's system from his time in Ateneo has given him a degree of comfort that allowed him to still impact the game without scoring. Making decisions and actions that led to positive results, he was also key to the third quarter comeback.
This version of Gilas is full of this type of players and it's, simply put, a joy to watch. Because they're so young and don't have the experience in these big game situations, they trust and embrace coach Tab's system and execute it to the best of their roles and abilities.
2. The Philippines' frontline of the future is ridiculous.
Seriously, look at what the Gilas bigs did:
Ange Kouame: 12 points, 3/5 3PTM, 6 rebounds, 3 steals
Kai Sotto: 11 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists
Carl Tamayo: 10 points, 4/5 FGs
Justine Baltazar: 6 points, 7 rebounds
These aren't eye-popping stats by any measure, but what they show is the flexibility coach Tab has at his disposal with his frontcourt.
It starts with Kouame and Sotto, who both looked so impressive in their debuts with Gilas Men. Though both were obviously too hyped at the beginning, once they settled down, they showed just how crucial they would be to the present and future of our program.
Kouame didn't look out of place trying to work against Ricardo Ratliffe to control the boards and his perimeter jumper was crucial to drawing the 6-foot-6 center, now known as Ra Gun-Ah, away from the basket and allowing attackers like Dwight Ramos and SJ Belangel to score inside.
Then there's Sotto, who hardly had any practice with the team yet still looked, at times, like the best player on the floor. That extra weight and muscle helped him finish through contact, when in previous years he would have probably flailed to the floor after getting bumped.
Having Baltazar and Tamayo, as well as team captain Isaac Go, is just a luxury at this point. Go's floor-spacing works perfectly with Tamayo and Baltazar's old school ground and pound game and all three looked comfortable against Korea's older frontcourt. If these youngsters continue developing together, we could be looking at having a fierce frontcourt, for the first time in a long time, in Asian basketball.
Coach Tab and Dwight Ramos on Gilas win
Tab Baldwin and Dwight Ramos talk about Gilas Pilipinas' thrilling win over Korea.
3. There's no more tomorrow. Dwight Ramos' time is NOW.
Though Belangel got all the headlines because of his incredible game-winner, make no mistake, the best player on the floor for the Philippines was Ramos.
He played the most minutes for Gilas at 32 and notched 16 points, five rebounds, and two steals. His relentless motor and athleticism was a nightmare for Korea to handle and helped his teammates better looks and passing lanes to attack.
While we have discussed the importance of having role players, all teams also need that one guy who could serve as your break-in-case-of-emergency scorer. In Ateneo's three-peat, also helmed by coach Tab, that was Thirdy Ravena. For this version of Gilas, it's apparent that Ramos is going to be called upon to take control when the Philippines needs something to happen.
For a youngster who has yet to play a single UAAP game, he looked undaunted and unafraid of the big stage. It would be interesting to see if coach Tab uses Ramos against Indonesia on Friday, or just save him for the rematch against South Korea two days later. Whatever the case might be, it's becoming clearer and clearer that Ramos would be a fixture for the program for years to come.
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