MANILA, Philippines – Gilas Pilipinas on Thursday took the first step toward qualifying for the 2019 FIBA World Cup and, from hereon, the road will only get tougher.
A 97-64 win over Indonesia in the gold-medal game of the Southeast Asian Basketball Association Championship assured the Philippines it will qualify for the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup, as well as to the qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA World Cup.
After his team's triumph, Gilas coach Chot Reyes admits that it is only at this point that they will work on the plans for the national team's future.
"We purposely did not put a concrete plan in place, until we won this first," Reyes explained. "I said let's win this first, and now that we know that we're going to the World Cup qualifying, now we can sit down and put a plan together."
The "we" that Reyes talked about refers to himself, the PBA Board, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, and other stakeholders in the Gilas program. At this point, the squad's future is somewhat murky; all that Reyes is sure of is that there is a cadet program in place to bolster the national team.
"We know it's going to be a challenge," he adds. "It's going to be difficult."
Making Reyes somewhat positive is that they are at least aware of the schedule that the national team is set to take. There is the FIBA Asia Cup in August, with the Southeast Asian Games to be held in the same month. The first World Cup qualification window is in November and the second in February.
"We already know the schedule all the way to the run-up to the World Championships in 2019," said Reyes. "So now that we know that, now we can put a plan together."
Of course, this will be easier said than done.
"There are a lot of schedules and other things to consider," Reyes said, noting for example that the PBA season will continue to run concurrent with the international tournaments.
"We just have to sit down, put our heads together to find a way and to find the best possible solution, the best possible scenario," he said. "I think we have a good group, and I think we have the potential to be a really good, strong team."
"But I also understand that there are other interests and there are other needs that prevail," he acknowledged.
Reyes correctly pointed out that the Philippines is not the only country that is dealing with these issues.
USA Basketball announced earlier this month that players from the NBA D-League will represent the United States in World Cup qualifiers, not the NBA. Reyes revealed that China has formed two versions of its national teams precisely to deal with the schedule of the qualifiers.
"There are several different directions that we can take," he concluded. "But like I said, it has to be determined by the Gilas brain trust, together with the other stakeholders, the PBA and the SBP."
"We just have to be very creative and figure out the best way forward."
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