On September, another chapter to the Gilas Pilipinas story book will unfold. Five years after an emotional return to the world basketball scene, Gilas is once again ready to showcase their #PUSO as in the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China.
As the team embarks on their new journey, head coach Yeng Guiao recently revealed its 19-man pool for the World Cup. These are the players that will vie for the final 12 spot come September:
On paper, this Gilas pool is full of firepower. The inclusion of Jordan Clarkson, alone, exemplifies the talent depth of the pool. Of course, Clarkson’s eligibility still hangs on the balance. The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) has yet to get approval of its appeal to make him eligible to play as a local rather than a naturalized player.
Coach Guiao, however, opted to include him in the pool in case he will be allowed to play as a local. If not, at least he will be included in the choices of naturalized players alongside old reliables Andray Blatche, Stanley Pringle and Christian Standhardinger.
The biggest loss of the Gilas team is Jayson Castro. Castro recently announced his pull out from the World Cup and possible retirement from international tournaments. Sensational PBA rookie Bobby Ray Parks and Scottie Thompson, on the other hand, have declined their invites. Parks would have provided wing versatility and offensive punch for the team. Thompson would have brought instant energy boost with his sneaky rebounds and pesky defense.
A notable exclusion that should have been given a second look is Terrence Romeo. He is too offensively gifted to not be included in the pool. He is, perhaps, the best local shot maker the country has today, when healthy. Armed with his ridiculous handles and sniping abilities from behind the arc, having Romeo in the World Cup would have been a joy to watch and very helpful for the Gilas campaign lacking Castro, Parks and Thompson.
All that being said, the current Gilas pool of players will definitely be a handful for their opponents, moving forward. But will it be enough to secure a win come World Cup?
First up are the strengths of this Pool. Obviously, speed and shooting will be Gilas’ main asset for the tournament. Especially with Guiao’s preferred system of constant pick-and-rolls, pick-and-pops and hand off actions in half court. Gilas will also take very opportunity to run in fast break situations as instructed by their coach.
This is why having quality guard rotation is critical for Gilas. The likes of Paul Lee, Mark Barroca and Kiefer Ravena are a must. These are three of the elite pick and roll players in the country today. The ball will probably fall in their hand most of the time to create shots for their teammates.
This team is mobile and quick on their feet. Although, they will be at disadvantage in terms of height, Coach Guiao will have no problems having five guys running up and down the floor, taking every advantage to get easy points on fast breaks.
Surrounding the guards with a field of shooters is something to look out for when building the final roster. In international games, making outside shots is not just a priority but a requirement. Fortunately, this team will have plenty of that.
Outside of Junemar Fajardo and Christian Standhardinger, all players have respectable three-point shooting and that is a huge plus. But in order for them to have a fighting chance in the world cup, designated shooters such as Marcio Lassiter, Roger Pogoy and Matthew Wright should consistently make their threes. Think of how Jeff Chan performed during the 2014 world cup against Croatia. A similar performance is what’s needed from them.
The biggest weakness of this pool will be the big man rotation. This has been Gilas’ main problem ever since. As tough as players like Beau Belga, Raymond Almazan, Poy Erram and Christian Standhardinger may be, they are just simply undersized in international level. Sure, the toughness could patch this glaring disadvantage but international bigs are skilled enough to figure out and outplay Gilas’ frontcourt.
This is why Andray Blatche, June Mar Fajardo and Japeth Aguilar will be so critical. These three players are the only natural bigs that could match up fairly well in international standards in terms of height and size. If Blatche could somehow manage to show up in great condition and top form, then our team will be in good position. Fajardo, even though he had his troubles in international play in the past, is still too good and too skilled to not get contributions from. While Aguilar’s motor and leaping abilities bodes well for Gilas as a weak side defender and a roll man player.
One of the intriguing developments in this Gilas pool is the return of Ravena. After serving his 18 month suspension from FIBA, he is set to be back just in time for the World Cup preparations. And if indeed, he is a shoo-in for the Final 12 roster. Ravena will be Gilas’ biggest x-factor.
With the absence of Castro, Gilas’ primary point guard duties should fall on Ravena’s hands. Even though he is not as fast as the Blur, his skill level and basketball IQ is just as fitting as Castro’s when it comes to the international stage.
However, a big concern will be his conditioning, especially after a long layoff from competitive basketball. But if all goes well, expect big responsibilities from Ravena especially with a talent caliber like his.
Cutting down this 19-man pool to the Final 12 will be a tough task just because every player can contribute on any given night. For starters, choosing the naturalized player will be addressed. Obviously, if by some miracle that Clarkson will be allowed to play as a local, then having him and Blatche together will be a huge bonus for Gilas.
But assuming the status quo, Blatche is still the best option as the naturalized player of Gilas over Clarkson, Pringle and Standhardinger who are also not eligible to play as locals. Talent-wise it’s no question that Clarkson leads the pack, but Blatche just fits perfectly in Coach Guiao’s system. He is a stretch five that can create mismatches because he is able to attack off the dribble, a unique skill for someone of his size.
A final 12 of Blatche, Fajardo, Aguilar, Ravena, Lee, Barroca, Gabe Norwood, Lassiter, and Erram as shoo-ins together with Troy Rosario, Pogoy, and Wright should be competitive enough as it will maximize the team’s strength in shooting, speed and wing versatility.
Of course, the decision will still fall into the hands of Coach Guiao. But it can be assured that whoever represents the flag come World Cup, Gilas show their laban and make every Filipino basketball fan proud.