What to expect from this young Gilas squad

Gilas Final 12:

  1. Javi Gomez De Liaño
  2. Juan Gomez De Liaño
  3. Rey Suerte
  4. Kobe Paras
  5. Dave Ildefonso
  6. Isaac Go
  7. Matt Nieto
  8. Mike Nieto
  9. Kenmark Carino
  10. Will Navarro
  11. Dwight Ramos
  12. Justine Baltazar

Photo from FIBA

We’ve seen it thrown around a lot this 2020; New Normal.

While it may be unclear what specific changes we are all going through, it’s clear that things are no longer the same. COVID-19 shook us as a society, and it derailed a lot of our plans. Career journeys were destroyed. Educational dreams are now filled with frustration and anger, instead of hope. Travel plans were squashed. It was a lot to take in for all of us.

Even the Gilas Pilipinas program couldn’t escape this worldwide phenomenon. Currently in Bahrain for the 2020 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers, it’s safe to say this wasn’t the squad Program Director Tab Baldwin had in mind when he was building the talent pool during the start of the year. It was expected to be filled with youth, but no one thought there would only be youth. Due to the conflicts in schedule with the PBA Bubble, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas opted not to bring any pros for this window’s roster of players.

While there was some tinge of excitement, others also felt uncertain with the governing body’s decision to bring collegiate studs instead of proven pieces. This wasn’t the SEA Games. They were scheduled to go up against national teams with seasoned professionals and newly minted naturalized players. How did this move make sense for Gilas?

Photo from FIBA

To better understand the logic behind this roster, it’s important to reiterate that Gilas is currently going through a transition. There are three stages to this according to William Bridges, a change consultant who introduced the Bridges Transition Model:

Stage 1: Ending, Losing, and Letting Go

Stage 2: The Neutral Zone

Stage 3: The New Beginning

For the sake of this exercise, only the first two stages are applicable. We’re not in Stage 3 yet, far from it.

Stage 1 was when COVID-19 struck, and lockdowns destroyed a lot of the National Team’s plans. There was certainly doubt and frustration. Thankfully, we’re past that.

Right now, we’re in Stage 2: The Neutral Zone. This is the stage that’s trickiest to navigate and we can feel that right now. There’s still resentment to the change that’s currently happening. There’s skepticism whether this will work or not.

Of course, you’d want some pros to guide this group of young players. Coach Tab might have even wanted to bring in a Kai Sotto or an AJ Edu for short-term and long-term gains. This isn’t the ideal roster Coach Tab had in mind.

Photo from FIBA

But in this stage, expecting the ideal to become reality would be fooling ourselves. While in The Neutral Zone, the key is to survive and to make the most out of the experiences we gain during this period. So how will this roster survive, and will they be able to make the most out of what this FIBA Asia Window offers?

South Korea opting to bow out of this Window likely gave the SBP a huge sigh of relief. That was a pack of wild dogs waiting to feast on the raw youth of Gilas Pilipinas. The margin for error just got a lot bigger.

That’s exactly what this Gilas team needs right now; the room to grow and to make mistakes. Facing a team like Thailand in this Window allows them to do that. Granted, Gilas is still going up against a team of pros who will make life hard for them. But the pressure level isn’t as high as going up against superpowers like Korea, or worse, Iran and China.

This roster’s going to make a lot of mistakes. One part of it is because of their youth, but another part of it is because they’ll be playing different positions in the international level. Others with established roles already, such as Matt Nieto and Juan Gomez de Liano, will have a relatively smooth transition. However, players like Javi Gomez de Liano — who will reportedly be playing the shooting guard more in Bahrain – and Kobe Paras – who will be leaned on for his leadership – will likely go through some growing pains.

Photo from FIBA

There could be some ugly moments in these two games versus Thailand, and that’s perfectly fine. This group needs to make those mistakes. The key is how they’ll be able to learn from those, so moving forward, they’ll become better basketball players. That’s the thing with The Neutral Zone, you need to have an open mind. You need to strike a balance between trying new things and learning from the errors you will inevitably make in this trying time.

There’s still a lot of questions about this team at this point. It’s going to be like this for the time being and the best thing to do right now is to embrace it. Hold on tight, this FIBA Asia Window is going to be a doozy for Gilas Pilipinas. But there is hope that at the other end of it, the players and the program comes out stronger than when they entered. That’s the New Beginning they’re hoping for.

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