2018 FIBA Asia U18: Batang Gilas showcases potential in win versus Lebanon

Batang Gilas 75 – Lebanon 53

Historically, the Batang Gilas U18 teams for the FIBA Asia tournament have been touted for their talent and potential. The 2014 edition was exciting because it had Kobe Paras and Andrei Caracut leading the way for the country. 2016 had hotshot Jolo Mendoza, along with raw, but talented Kemark Carino shoring up the frontline. That’s all it was, however: potential. Neither of the teams made it to the FIBA U19 World Cup, with the 2016 edition winning just three of its eight games in the tournament.

The U18 team for 2018 faces the same dilemma (or blessing, depends on how you look at it). This team is all about potential. It has a dream front court featuring Kai Sotto and AJ Edu, while Dave Ildefonso and Dalph Panopio make for an explosive backcourt duo. It’s the kind of team with talent, depth and size that will make any Filipino basketball fan salivate.

The tricky thing with potential is, it can be pleasing to the eyes, but not the tongue. The 2014 and 2016 teams, for all of their talent, did not leave the mark fans hoped that they would. Expectations have increased for this year’s team, but the goal ultimately remains the same. Make it to the World Cup, and maybe even win the tournament in the process.

Batang Gilas took the first step towards that goal by beating a young Lebanon team quite convincingly. However, it didn’t start out as smoothly as you’d expect, with Lebanon showcasing the tools to thwart whatever attack Batang Gilas would throw.

The Filipinos initially tried to run plenty of action around the post, with Sotto as the focal point of their offense. Back in the U16 tournament, this worked because teams had no idea how Sotto played down low. But two international tournaments later, teams are already aware of the damage he can do from down there. So in an instant, the smaller Lebanese threw multiple hard doubles at Sotto, making sure he never got comfortable looks from close to the basket. That strategy limited his output from there. That’s a lot better for the Lebanese, because it gave the rest of Batang Gilas a difficult time executing their offense.

So almost naturally, Batang Gilas reverted back to the basic attack of the Filipino: the dribble drive. Ildefonso and Panopio took control of most of the possessions, with Ildefonso attacking a lot off the catch while Panopio set things up from the top. It was effective at first. Ildefonso scored 11 points of his game-high 19 points during the first quarter alone, with his blend of size, speed and strength being too much for the Lebanese wings. That was the first flash of potential we were witness to: the greatness of Ildefonso as a scoring wing with size.

The second quarter was a mixed bag. The Lebanese finally got a hold of the Batang Gilas offense, forcing them to multiple turnovers which led to easy baskets on the other side of the court. The game was tight, with Lebanon cutting the lead to as much as two points at the 2:31 mark of the second quarter. It took a late Dave Ildefonso explosion to create some form of separation before halftime, but you just knew this could go down the wire if Batang Gilas did not make any adjustments.

During the second half they did. This is where it got fun, where Coach Josh reyes sprinkled in a fun little wrinkle that opened things up for the rest of the team: putting Edu as the primary receiver in the post rather than Sotoo. It was a role reversal that confused the Lebanese. Do we double Edu and allow him to pass off to the taller Sotto for the easy deuce? Or do we let Edu go one on one with our smaller teammate?

Lebanon tried some form of both one way or another, but it simply could not work. The result was the game opening up to the rest of the team, with Batang Gilas unloading a 18-8 blast during the third quarter to break the game wide open.

Panopio finally broke out of his shell, scoring more to pair with his quarterbacking. He looked like a younger Matt Nieto at times, showing the same amount of swagger and confidence the Blue Eagle always showed in international tournaments. He was an all-around beast all game, ending up with 12 points, four rebounds, six assists and two steals.

Then there was Edu, who was already having a pretty good game even before he erupted in the second half. His activity on the defensive end was constant and intelligent. He moved with grace and fluidity unheard of from a Filipino of his size. His athleticism was too overwhelming for the Lebanese, as he ended the game with 17 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks.

The two other flashes of potential we saw during the game: Panopio’s all-around brilliance, and Edu’s unique athletic gifts.

Sotto didn’t even have that good of a game, which makes going through this tournament even more exciting. The flashes of potential are there from what some may say is the most talented Batang Gilas U18 team of all time. The potential is pleasing to the eyes, we were even witness to its delicious taste in bunches versus Lebanon. It will only be a matter of time, before we swallow the dish, and savor its full flavor to our tongues that deserve every bit of it.

Photos from FIBA.com