Future is bright for Gilas

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - December 2, 2020 - 12:00am

Three things stood out in Gilas’ twin wins over Thailand in the recent FIBA Asia Cup second qualifying window in Bahrain. First, the 14 players in coach Jong Uichico’s rotation are highly-skilled. Second, they’re coachable. And third, their potential to become even better players is mind-boggling. For the record, Gilas crushed Thailand, 93-61, in the first game and 93-69 in the second.

But let’s not get too giddy. To put things in perspective, Thailand showed up with a 10-man roster and the team’s best player Tyler Lamb of UCLA wasn’t in the lineup. The Thais’ American coach Chris Daleo, who by the way applied for the UST job when Aldin Ayo resigned, was also absent. If FIBA insisted on Gilas playing Indonesia in Bahrain, that would’ve been a big test for the Philippine squad whose average age is 24. Indonesia played only one game in the second window, beating Thailand by 14 behind grizzled import Lester Prosper and newly-minted “local” Brandon Jawato. In the third window in February, Gilas will play Indonesia and South Korea, possibly twice. Gilas will be likely reinforced by PBA stars and by then, June Mar Fajardo may be ready to play.

Still, how Gilas performed in Bahrain was impressive. The standout was Dwight Ramos who played two seasons at California State Fullerton and one at Cal Poly Pomona before he was recruited by Ateneo. In the Clark bubble, PBA commissioner Willie Marcial watched his performance on TV and couldn’t believe his eyes as the 6-4 guard-forward went 7-of-7 from the field and 4-of-4 from the line in scoring 20 points in the first Thai encounter. And Ramos is only 22. There were other bright spots. Javi and Juan Gomez de Liaño combined for 33 points, including 8-of-10 triples, in the second Thai contest. The Nieto brothers Mike and Matt were solid as usual. Calvin Oftana sat out the first game then dazzled with 3-of-5 treys in the second. Justine Baltazar had 12 points in the first meeting and 11 rebounds in the second. Isaac Go collected nine points and 10 rebounds in the Thai rematch. Kobe Paras, Dave Ildefonso, Will Navarro, Rey Suerte, Kemark Cariño and Jaydee Tungcab had their moments. If Allyn Bulanadi hadn’t injured his shoulder in practice, he would’ve also contributed.

In the second game, Gilas clamped down on the Thais’ outside shooting. Against Indonesia, Nattakarn Muangboon shot 32 points, including 6-of-10 3s, in a no-relief job. As a team, Thailand went 10-of-23 for a 43.5 percent clip. Muangboon was 0-of-10 from beyond the arc in the Gilas rematch as Thailand hit a lowly 16 percent from rainbow range or 4-of-25. Center Chanatip Jakrawan got away with 34 points and 12 rebounds, dominating the interior but the Thai perimeter gunners were muzzled. Jakrawan, obviously, can’t beat Gilas by himself and that was Gilas’ gambit. Gilas blanked the entire Thai bench, 53-0 and had more rebounds, 52-41. The downside was Gilas’ poor free throw shooting, 9-of-18 and surrendering too many second chance points, 25-15.

Teamwork was evident with Gilas compiling more assists, 24-13, in the first game and 26-11 in the second. On the whole, Gilas played unselfishly. There weren’t too many bad shots and there were only a few lapses in failing to control possessions after grabbing a rebound. The performance was a clear indication that Gilas project director Tab Baldwin is on the right track in building a foundation for a cohesive national team. Imagine introducing 7-1 Kai Sotto, 18, 6-10 A. J. Edu, 20 and 7-1 Sage Tolentino, 16 and bringing back Thirdy Ravena, 23, to the pool. Surely, the future is bright for Gilas looking forward to the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

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