Next in line: Picking the 12 for the 2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship

SLAM PH is kicking off 2016 with Future Week, a series of articles looking ahead in the basketball world, both local and international. Who will be dominating the hardcourt in the future? These pieces document our choices.

Donning the national colors is not just an accomplishment, but an honor. Whether it’s your first time, or if you’ve already done it more than once, being given the chance to represent your country is quite the honor. Doing it when you’re just a teenager?

Man, talk about a dream come true.

This September 1, 12 players will be chosen to represent our country for the FIBA Asia U18 Championship (we’re assuming we place in the top two of the SEABA tourney, right? – ed). Work has already been done, going from hundreds of players to a pool of 20, a tough task, given the amount of talent which the high school ranks has nowadays.

Now, cutting it down to the final 12? Pretty much hell. But sadly, it has to be done. With that, here are our picks (assuming that Coach Mike Oliver is given a completely free hand and all schools release their respective players) for the Batang Gilas U18 team that will represent our country in later this year. Before we start though, here are some ground rules:

1. For the sake of this list, we only considered players who are currently in the Philippines. That means Fil-Foreigners overseas such as AJ Edu, Kamaka Hepa and Ethan Kirkness will not be considered for this list, because we’re just not sure if they’re going to be available.

2. The list of 20 players hasn’t been released publicly. For that case, we won’t be following the 20 player pool, we have no idea who made it.

3. Only players who were born 1998 and 1999 were considered for this list. That means players who will be 18, but were born 1997 will not be considered for the 12 man list. Sorry about that, Mark Dyke and Kobe Paras.

4. The focus for this team will be a fast-paced game and shooting, things which have led the Philippines to respectable finishes in past tourneys. So obviously, bigs won’t be quite the priority for the team.

With that, let’s get started!

Frontcourt

Will Allen Gozum (UPIS Junior Maroons, 6’5”) – Gozum is fresh off a solid stint at the FIBA Asia U16 Championships in Jakarta, where he served as the leading rebounder for the Batang Gilas (6.4 per game). He will serve as the main big man for Batang Gilas, with enough heft to bang with his other Asian counterparts. He doesn’t have the best outside shot, but that won’t be his role for this team anyway.

Jonas Tibayan (Chiang Kai Shek, 6’4”) – The frontcourt partner of Gozum in the U16 tourney, Jonas is expected to return to anchor the frontline of Batang Gilas. Where Will is a bona fide center, Tibayan is a forward who has shown promise as a stretch big. For this team, however, he’ll use his muscular physique to try to box out other big men in the Asian level. After averaging an impressive 9.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg line in the U16 tournament, it will be no shock if the big man out of Chiang Kai Shek does the same in the U18 tournament.

Javi Gomez de Liano (UPIS Junior Maroons, 6’5”) – Javi will be expected to serve as one of the leading rebounders for Batang Gilas. In the ongoing UAAP tournament, Javi is the second leading rebounder, using his length and size to overpower other big men. The great thing with Javi is that he’s quite the versatile forward. He can hit the occasional mid-range jumper, but at the same time, he has a knack for making put-backs when needed. The role of Javi (well, also the rest of the frontcourt) is to REBOUND. As simple as that. And that’s something this guy does well.

Jason Credo (Ateneo Blue Eaglets, 6’4”) – Jason “The Creed” (as coined by Levi Verora Jr.) Credo suddenly rose into the spotlight after his 10-8-5 line against China in the past U16 tournament in Jakarta. He was the third leading rebounder on that squad and so his services will be called on again. What will set him apart from the first three bigs mentioned in this list though is his outside shooting. He’s a small forward through and through, but for Batang Gilas, he will be serving as a stretch-4. Oh yeah, he can play point forward at times too. Scary.

Wings

Ricci Rivero (LSGH Greenies, 6’1”) – Ricci is essentially a lock to make it to the U18 team. He’s undoubtedly the best player in the High School circuit right now, and it isn’t even close. Heck, in the 2015 FIBA Worlds 3×3 U18 competition in Hungary, there were times he made Kobe Paras look like his back-up. He’s that good. Ricci has a developing jump shot, but his main role for this team will be to SLASH. AS IN SLASH. SLASH LIKE A MAD MAN. Ricci has top-notch athleticism and strength, which is impressive for a guy who looks quite thin. Plus, he’s quite the versatile player, showing the ability to play the 1 position at times. Expect Ricci to wreak havoc at the Asian level come September.

Gian Mamuyac (Ateneo Blue Eaglets, 6’1”) – Gian was already known, but he wasn’t on the radar early this year. That changed after his performance in the FIBA Asia U16 competition, where he put up 11.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.5 steals per game for Batang Gilas. Mamu is pretty much Ricci, just minus the strength and the tight handles. What he has going for him, however, is his crazy length and ability to glide through the air effortlessly. Unlike Ricci, however, don’t expect him to slash much. What you should expect from him, however, is to use his length and athleticism to make life a living hell for opposing wings and guards.

John Lloyd Clemente (NU Bullpups, 6’0”) – Clemente isn’t exactly a known commodity around Philippine basketball circles, as most of the attention on the Bullpups is on big man Justine Baltazar. Doesn’t matter, because Clemente is a pretty good basketball player who deserves a slot on the U18 team. He has decent size for a wing, but he has shown the ability to play off-guard at times. He doesn’t have the length, athleticism or the flashiness as his two fellow wings, but what he has is a steady game. Rebound, score off the catch, drive, he can do it. Expect him to be a steady versatile presence for Batang Gilas.

Backcourt

Jolo Mendoza (Ateneo Blue Eaglets, 5’10”) – While he isn’t as dominant as Ricci, Jolo is still pretty damn good in his own right. Batang Gilas leading scorer in the 2013 FIBA Asia U16 Championships? Check. A stint in the U17 World Championships? Check. A UAAP Finals MVP award? Check. His list of credentials is like no other. For this version of the team, he’ll be doing the same things that he did two years ago. Catch the ball, shoot. As simple as that. In addition, Jolo can also be expected to create for himself, showing the ability to score off floaters, drives, and of course, his favorite one dribble pull-up jumper. He was able to do it a few years ago, so who’s to say that he can’t do it even better this time around?

Aljun Melecio (DLSZ Junior Archers, 5’9”) – Aljun has stuffed the stats sheet in the UAAP Juniors Division, and he has shown the ability to control a team quite well. Despite his heavy scoring numbers, Aljun has also shown the ability to make others shine. He’s a master of setting the pace for the team, knowing whether to run, or to set up in the half-court. With a team surrounded by shooters and open court demons, expect Aljun to enjoy dishing out assists left and right for Batang Gilas.

JV Gallego (NU Bulldogs, 5’10”) – Yes, surprisingly enough, JV Gallego is reportedly eligible to play for the Batang Gilas U18 team. JV is a born scorer, best known for his 32-point performance in the NBTC tournament, and his co-MVP showing in last year’s SLAM Rising Stars Classic. Despite not playing in the UAAP this year, Gallego shouldn’t be mistaken as a bust. He can slash and shoot the ball at a high rate. More importantly, he has shown the ability to set plays for his teams. While Jolo is expected to shoot a lot, JV’s job is to slash into the lane and create for his team.

SJ Belangel (Ateneo Blue Eaglets, 5’11”) – SJ is best known for his 99-point explosion when he was in Bacolod, but ever since then, he has proved that he is more than just a scorer. In fact, SJ has made a solid case as an all-around threat, leading Batang Gilas U16 in scoring and assists in the 2015 FIBA Asia U16 tournament last November. What is most impressive with SJ is his leadership. When on the court, he plays as if he’s a seasoned veteran. He isn’t the jet that Aljun Melecio is, but he’s a bull-strong player who can set the tone for his team quite well. He’ll be one of the top playmakers for this team, but if tasked to take over, expect him to do so.

Fran Yu (UE Red Warriors, 5’8”) – Yup, UE Red Warrior Fran Yu is also eligible to make it to the Batang Gilas U18 team. While he was seldom-used this past UAAP season, due to the deep rotation of Coach Derrick Pumaren, when he’s on the court, he has produced. According to Humblebola Stats, Fran puts up an AST% of 30.3% for the UE Red Warriors. Just how good is that? It’s fifth in the league, behind only Joseph Nalos, Kiefer Ravena, Mike Tolomia and Jerie Pingoy. Other than his playmaking skills, what’s more impressive with Fran is his defense. He may be thin, but he will give backcourt players hell with his length and scrappiness. For a Batang Gilas team expected to run and gun, that is definitely of big help.

Also considered:

Dave Ildefonso (Ateneo Blue Eaglets, 6’3”) – Stretch big, has good size for a forward. Only problem is he isn’t as bruising as the other frontcourt players in this list

Justine Baltazar (NU Bullpups, 6’7”) – Has the size which players on this list don’t have, but he’s still too raw for the international game

Jay Pangalangan (DLSU Green Archers, 6’8”) – Definitely has the size and heft to play with international bigs, but is still too raw and too slow

Shaun Ildefonso (Ateneo Blue Eaglets, 6’2”) – Is strong, but not at the level of a Mark Dyke whose strength ignores the fact that he’s only 6’2”. Isn’t that good of an outside shooter as well

Harvey Pagsanjan (Hope Christian High School, 5’11”), Juan Gomez de Liano (UPIS Junior Maroons, 6’0”) and Evan Nelle (San Beda Red Cubs, 6’0”) – Very good players, but the problem is that, the ones chosen in the backcourt for the 12-man pool are simply better and more tailor-made for the international game right now.

RV Berjay (Ateneo Blue Eaglets, 6’5”) – Is arguably the most skilled big man in high school basketball today. Problem is, doesn’t have the skills yet to play as a stretch 4. More of a back to the basket player for now

Sam Abuhijle (San Beda Red Cubs, 6’3”) – Is a bruising big, but doesn’t have the experience or the length which the other bigs in this list have

Photo c/o FIBA