MANILA, Philippines -- None of the players in the Gilas Pilipinas pool are assured of spots in the "Final 12," with even the six PBA players having to fight for their slots in the roster.
The national team pool has been training at the Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna since mid-January to prepare for the third and final window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers.
Even with the cancellation of the country's hosting of the upcoming window, the team's preparation continues, with Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) president Al Panlilio saying it is "business as usual" for the players at Inspire.
Of the players currently training in Calamba, only 12 will make it to the game-day roster in the qualifiers, and competition for spots in the line-up is fierce.
"They were briefed before they entered the bubble that nobody is assured of a spot in our final 12," said Ryan Gregorio, special assistant to Panlilio, in a recent appearance on "Power and Play."
"So they really have to fight for it," he stressed. "They have to make sure that they are worthy of the slot given to them. Talagang labanan pa rin 'yan."
Gregorio stressed that not even the six PBA players in the camp -- Kiefer Ravena, CJ Perez, Troy Rosario, Roger Pogoy, Raul Soyud, and Justin Chua -- are shoo-ins for the final 12. He further said there are plenty of factors to consider in selecting the game-day roster, including the nature of the competition in the FIBA window.
In November 2020, the SBP sent a young team with no PBA experience to the bubble in Manama, Bahrain, and the gamble paid off as Gilas claimed two wins over Thailand. But the upcoming window should be more difficult, with the Philippines scheduled to play South Korea twice and Indonesia once.
"What's important again is, we are not just looking at the best players in our country," Gregorio explained. "What we are looking for is players who can fit in the best."
"And as far as the coaches are concerned, there is a specific role that each player must play in order for us to be very successful," he added.
Aside from the pros, four players taken in the special round of the 2019 PBA Rookie Draft were also called up: Isaac Go, Rey Suerte, Mike Nieto, and Matt Nieto. The amateurs present at camp include draft hopefuls Will Navarro and Calvin Oftana, brothers Juan and Javi Gomez de Liano, Dave Ildefonso, Justine Baltazar, Kemark Carino, Dwight Ramos, and naturalization prospect Ange Kouame.
Teenage center Kai Sotto is expected to play for Gilas in the upcoming window as well.
"(The coaches) are very happy with the progress," Gregorio said of the team. "(It's the) first time for them to be together."
"Remember, our ultimate goal is 2023 (FIBA World Cup). So kung meron mang tayong pwedeng mga failures that can be improved to positive things, then try it this early so we can again progress incredibly well," he added.