MANILA, Philippines -- As the national team's usual leaders begin to step away from the program, it is time for NLEX guard Kiefer Ravena to step up for Gilas Pilipinas.
This, according to former national team stalwart LA Tenorio, who named Ravena as his top player to watch when Gilas Pilipinas returns to action next month in the third and final window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers.
"I'm excited to see Kiefer lead the national team. I think it's his time already to lead the national team," Tenorio said during a recent appearance on "The Game." "I think Kiefer has… (the) characteristic to be a leader."
Ravena was a mainstay of the national teams that represented the Philippines in the Southeast Asian Games, and has helped the country win five gold medals in the biennial tournament.
He has also played for Gilas Pilipinas in the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup in China, averaging 4.8 points, 1.6 assists, and 1.4 rebounds per game. Later that year, Ravena was called up to the pro-laden Gilas squad that dominated the Southeast Asian Games.
He was named captain of the Gilas Pilipinas squad that routed Indonesia, 100-70, in the first window of the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers in February 2020, and was once again called up to the national team pool for the third window set for Clark, Pampanga on February 17-22.
Ravena is just one of six PBA players in the pool, together with NLEX teammate Raul Soyud, TerraFirma Dyip's CJ Perez, Phoenix Super LPG's Justin Chua, and the TNT duo of Troy Rosario and Roger Pogoy.
According to Tenorio, this will be the perfect time for Ravena to showcase his leadership qualities especially as the traditional veterans of the team -- such as TNT guard Jayson Castro and Rain or Shine swingman Gabe Norwood -- are not around.
"I think that this is his opportunity, knowing that Jayson is not playing, Gabe is not playing for this national team," said the Ginebra point guard.
"I think ito 'yung malaking opportunity niya to lead for this national team. I'm excited to see Kief, especially with the preparation going to the 2023 World Cup," he added.
Tenorio, who was part of the Gilas Pilipinas team that played in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, says this is a challenge that Ravena is well aware of. He has made it a point to talk to the NLEX guard about his increased responsibility in the national team, and believes that Ravena is doing what he can to be ready for it.
"I know, and I always talk to Kiefer, na hindi talaga madali 'yung magiging responsibility niya. All eyes on him, this time," said Tenorio.
"Kasi siyempre, sa nakikita naman natin sa social media how he works hard and prepared for this bubble tournament, and for this window. Talagang ano siya, malaking pressure para sa kanya. Nand'yan na 'yan for him, and I always tell him that," he added.
But Ravena will have plenty of help from the PBA veterans who joined the national team pool in its training camp at the Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna. Tenorio points out that both Pogoy and Rosario are mainstays of the program, and Perez has played in the World Cup as well.
Chua was also part of the team that competed in the February 2020 window; only Soyud is making his debut for the national team program.
Tenorio is looking forward to seeing Rosario, in particular, prove his worth for Gilas and live up the comparisons to former national team forward Ranidel de Ocampo.
"We always compare Troy before with Ranidel," said Tenorio. "I think this is his time to show our kababayans… kung ano ang dapat niyang ipakita for the national team. We always compare him to Ranidel. So I hope this time, I'm excited to see him lead also as one of the vets. I'm excited to see him also."
The national team pool, which includes the collegiate stars who represented the country in the November 2020 qualifiers in Manama, Bahrain, have been training at the Inspire facility for some two weeks now.
They play South Korea twice and Indonesia once in the Clark bubble next month.