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Fil-foreign pool an option for Gilas?

MANILA, Philippines — The schedule of the FIBA six-window, home-and-away qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA World Cup may force Gilas to consider forming a Fil-foreign pool from which to pick a naturalized player.

Gilas head coach Chot Reyes said the other day plans to recruit a naturalized player are still “up in the air” even as Andray Blatche remains the first option when the Philippines opens its qualifying campaign in a road game against Japan tentatively on Nov. 24. The date may be advanced to Nov. 23 as requested by host Japan.

“The FIBA home-and-away schedule is making it difficult to get a naturalized player on a long-term basis,” said Reyes. Blatche, 30, has played one tournament a year with Gilas since the FIBA World Cup in Spain in 2014. He suited up for the Philippines at the SEABA Cup here last May but skipped the Jones Cup, FIBA Asia Cup and SEA Games this year. His availability for at least four games in the first round of the qualifiers is in doubt as he has a live contract to play in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) whose season runs from October to April.

After the first encounter with Japan, Gilas will play Chinese-Taipei at home on Nov. 27, Australia on the road on Feb. 22, Japan at home on Feb. 25 (pending adjustment to Feb. 27), Chinese-Taipei on the road on June 29 and Australia at home on July 2. The top three finishers in Group B will advance to the second round where they will play another set of home-and-away games with the top three finishers of Group D. Comprising Group B are the Philippines, Japan, Chinese-Taipei and Australia while the teams in Group D are Kazakhstan, Iran, Iraq and Qatar. The second round windows are scheduled on Sept. 17-25 and Nov. 26-Dec. 4 next year and Feb. 18-26, 2019. Seven teams from the original 16 in the four-group Asia/Pacific qualifiers will make it to the FIBA World Cup in China on Aug. 31-Sept. 15, 2019.

Aside from Blatche, the Philippines’ other active naturalized player is Christian Standhardinger who will play for Hong Kong in the ABL this season. The ABL runs from November to March. Standhardinger, 28, is actually a half-Filipino, half-German dual citizen but because he wasn’t issued his Philippine passport before turning 16, FIBA classifies him only as a naturalized player. FIBA has a rule that allows dual citizens to play for their country of choice as locals only if they were issued their passports before turning 16. It is FIBA’s way to curb the anomalous overnight “localization” of foreign players stemming from the 2011 FIBA Asia Cup where five Africans were unmasked for passing themselves off as Qataris.

Gilas assistant coach Jong Uichico said there are foreign players willing to be naturalized but quality and length of commitment are critical. “Of course, it’s important that the candidates for naturalization are quality players of high caliber,” he said. “Next consideration is the timing because it takes a while before naturalization is processed through Congress.  Then, another consideration is the commitment to play over an extended period of time which has a cost. We had a good situation before with (Marcus) Douthit who stayed here all year round. But now, Andray has a contract with the CBA and Christian with the ABL.”

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Uichico said former two-time Star Hotshots import Ricardo Ratliffe was a candidate for naturalization but his asking price was way beyond budget. Ratlifee, 28, is a 6-8 forward from the University of Missouri who is a naturalized Korean but has yet to play for the Korean national team. Until he plays for Korea in FIBA, Ratliffe is still an option as a naturalized player for the Philippines or any other country. The talk is Korea will enlist Ratliffe for its home-and-away qualifying series in Group A where it is bracketed with China, New Zealand and Hong Kong.

“I think Ratliffe will stay in Korea,” said Uichico. “First, he can get a contract with the national team. Second, he can get a contract to play in the Korean league. So he can get a salary for the whole year. It’s unlike in the Philippines where he’ll be paid to play with Gilas for the whole year even when there are no international competitions. He can earn double in Korea so that’s difficult to match.”  Uichico said a fall-back is to tap a Fil-foreigner in the PBA as a naturalized player.

Among the Fil-foreigners in the PBA, 6-7 Mo Tautuaa stands out because of his height. Others include Stanley Pringle, Mike DiGregorio, Chris Newsome, Cliff Hodge, Chris Banchero, Maverick Ahanmisi and Chris Ross. They were all issued their Philippine passports after turning 16. Because Fil-foreigners are Philippine passport holders, they’re immediately eligible to see action for the Philippines in FIBA competitions but only as naturalized players if their passports were issued after turning 16.

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