Gilas Pilipinas coach Yeng Guiao looks to retain the 14-man pool that recently swept the final window of the qualifiers when the team begins its preparations for the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Led by Andray Blatche, Gilas clinched its second straight World Cup berth after winning its last two games against Qatar and Kazakhstan and finishing as the best fourth-seeded team in Asia.
While nothing is set in stone yet, the coach is hoping to work with the same group of players ahead of the global tiff scheduled from August 31 to September 15 in China.
"I'm very happy with the 14 people that I've had. I'm happy with Andray. I'll be happier with Jordan Clarkson (if he can play as a local)," Guiao said in a press conference hosted by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) in Ortigas Thursday.
Guiao points to the strong chemistry that the team has built as the main factor for keeping it intact.
"That's going to be the core of the team already. If there are changes, it's going to be one or two players at the most. We succeeded in our objective. If it's not broke, why fix it? That's how I look at it," he explained.
With that in mind, Guiao hopes to jumpstart the team's preparations soon, and that includes asking Blatche to return to Manila as early as possible.
"When I say get him in early, I'm not sure if he can play as an import (in the PBA) or just get him early before the World Cup itself. Those things are still hanging," he said.
SBP Chairman Emeritus Manny V. Pangilinan shared that they are constantly communicating with Blatche, who's currently back in China to continue his stint with the Tianjin Gold Lions.
"He said he's got six more games left to play in China. From there, he goes back to the States to get some rest. We don't know what his plans are after, but it looks like he'll be free starting April," said Pangilinan.
The SBP is also coordinating with the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) to map out the national team's plans, which will most likely include international stints.
"We would like to be able to participate in the Jones Cup. It's a logical thing for us now. I don't know if that's going to fit in the PBA schedule, but that's top of mind," said Guiao.
As Gilas returns to the world stage, the SBP hopes that the team will surpass its previous World Cup achievement. Back in the 2014 edition of the tournament in Spain, the Philippines was eliminated in the preliminary round after recording one win and four losses.
"The objective for us is to do better than the last World Cup," SBP President Al Panlilio said. "Last World Cup, we won one game. In a group of four teams, I think if you win two games, that will bring you to the next round."
A draw will take place on March 16 to determine the brackets in the initial phase of the competition. The 32 participating teams will be divided into eight groups of four and the top two finishers in each group will advance to the next round.
"I hope it's not gonna be a group of death again," said Panlilio, referring to the last draw when the Philippines was bracketed with Greece, Croatia, Argentina, Senegal, and Puerto Rico.
Aside from targeting a better finish in the World Cup, the Philippines also aims to continuously move higher in the FIBA world rankings.
"We're number 31 and there are 30 other countries ahead of us. Does this mean we're stuck at 31? We shouldn't think that way," said Pangilinan. "Even if we win, success is never final because there will be another World Cup in 2023, in 2027, so forth and so on. If we fail, it's not the end of Philippine basketball. There's still so much more that this country has to offer. What counts is the courage to continue."
"I'm very proud that we're in our second World Cup," added Panlilio. "In 2014, it took us 42 years. This is our second in a span of five years. We're guaranteeing ourselves of a third World Cup when we host the 2023 World Cup in partnership with Japan and Indonesia. I'm very excited for this development."