Four for Gilas

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin Henson - The Philippine Star

With what Gilas showed in the first window of the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers, coach Tim Cone is excited about the future. Clearly, there’s reason to be optimistic. “The scary part is this team can get a whole lot better,” he said.

Cone’s idea is to maintain a core of players so chemistry, familiarity and togetherness are instilled. That’s the reason why he named only 12 players for the recent window. But with AJ Edu recovering from knee surgery, Cone picked someone who could play the middle and knows his system well. Japeth Aguilar, 37, was tapped to take Edu’s spot and came out of retirement from Gilas. Aguilar had announced his retirement from the national team after Gilas’ golden finish at the Hangzhou Asian Games last year. He’d never refuse a call to duty especially if it was Cone who summoned.

When June Mar Fajardo also couldn’t play because of a calf injury, Cone stuck with an 11-man lineup for the Hong Kong game. And when Jamie Malonzo was out for the Chinese-Taipei contest, Cone played a 10-man rotation. That’s how strict he is in staying close to his nucleus. Despite their injuries, Edu and Fajardo were with Gilas during the window as Cone used the opportunity to bond and assimilate like a family.

But there will come a time when Cone might consider expanding his pool from 12 to perhaps 16 to cover for injuries or conflict in schedules. For the second FIBA Asia Cup qualifying window in November, Kevin Quiambao won’t be available because the UAAP season will have started.

The Japanese B-League will allow players to suit up for their national teams only in FIBA events like the Asia Cup qualifiers. It won’t allow B-League players to participate in non-FIBA-sanctioned competitions like the SEA and Asian Games during the season. So Cone has to be prepared to fill in the gaps when conflicts with the B-League or UAAP arise.

Four players whom Cone may consider to enlist for Gilas are 6-7 Justine Baltazar, 27, 6-5 Arvin Tolentino, 28, 6-2 Jordan Heading, 28, and 6-2 Rhenz Abando, 25. They’re all under 30 and they’ve had previous stints with Gilas. Baltazar and Heading were teammates on the Gilas squad that faced the Dominican Republic and Serbia at the 2020 Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade. They were also teammates with Quiambao on the Strong Group Athletics squad at the Dubai International Invitationals last January. Tolentino played four conferences with Ginebra in the PBA before moving to NorthPort and was on the golden Gilas teams at the SEA and Asian Games last year. He averaged 22.4 points in the just-concluded PBA Commissioner’s Cup. Abando saw action in the 2022 FIBA Asia Cup, 2023 FIBA World Cup Asia qualifiers and 2023 FIBA World Cup where he scored 14 points in Gilas’ win over China to clinch a ticket to the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Latvia this July.

Heading was in the 21-man pool for the last FIBA World Cup but couldn’t join because of a back issue. At the recent Dubai Invitationals, Heading averaged 11.1 points while Quiambao hit at a 15.8 clip and Baltazar, 4.6. Baltazar could sub for Quiambao in November. Abando could be a backup for CJ Perez or Dwight Ramos. Tolentino could fill in for Calvin Oftana or Malonzo.

Cone’s next order of business is to regroup Gilas for the coming Olympic Qualifying Tournament. The Philippines is in a three-team group with Georgia and Latvia. They play a round robin after which the top two finishers advance to face the top two finishers of the other group which is composed of Brazil, Cameroon and Montenegro. Only one of the six teams will book a pass to the Paris Olympics.

vuukle comment



  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with