MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippine national basketball team is headed towards a hectic stretch that will see them play in an Olympic qualifier in June followed by a continental tournament in August.
Not only will Gilas Pilipinas compete in a qualifier for the FIBA Asia Cup 2021, but they will also take part in the FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament (OQT) from June 29 to July 4 in Serbia. The Philippines was tapped by FIBA to take the place of New Zealand, who withdrew from the OQT.
After that, Gilas will then compete in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 set for August 16-28 in Jakarta, Indonesia.
With this in mind, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas is planning for Gilas Pilipinas to start training by the second week of March, possibly in another "bubble."
"We do have three months to prepare, but we have to maximize that," SBP President Al Panlilio said Monday in an interview with Dyan Castillejo of ABS-CBN News. "We don't want to start practicing a week or two before that."
"So our thinking is start something in March, maybe second or third week of March," he revealed.
Their preparation will most likely start after the PBA Rookie Draft, scheduled for March 14. There, the SBP is selecting four players -- William Navarro, JD Tungcab, Jordan Heading, and Tzaddy Rangel -- in a special draft. The quartet will become full-time members of Gilas Pilipinas, joining Isaac Go, Matt and Mike Nieto, Rey Suerte, and Allyn Bulanadi who were all similarly selected in a special draft
The federation is looking at a group of 20 players from the collegiate ranks who can join the nine full time Gilas players, said Panlilio.
"We're looking at about another 20 names that we're going through. Of course, we need to ask permission from the colleges and the universities that they play for," he explained.
Also potentially joining the Gilas Pilipinas pool are big men Kai Sotto and Ange Kouame. Panlilio assured that the 18-year-old Sotto remains committed to the national team after he left the Ignite program in the NBA G League.
They are also hopeful that by that time, Kouame would have already gotten his Philippine citizenship. The center from Ateneo de Manila University, who hails from the Ivory Coast, is one step closer towards becoming naturalized after the Senate Committee on Justice approved the bill for his naturalization last week.
"Kouame's papers are now in the Senate," said Panlilio. "After that, it goes to the President and he signs it. Once the President signs it, we can now process his passport. As you know, from a FIBA standpoint, their document of reckoning is always the passport."
Aside from holding a training camp, the SBP is also planning for Gilas Pilipinas to compete internationally. Panlilio revealed that some countries are already reaching out to the federation for possible friendly games.
"I think we're also willing to host it here," he said. "As you know, there's also an invitation by the PBA to participate (in the All-Filipino Cup)."
All plans are still being discussed and ironed out, said Panlilio, but they are contemplating a pocket tournament with two PBA teams and another national team.
The SBP boss acknowledged that Gilas has a tough challenge particularly in the Olympic qualifying tournament, where they are grouped with host nation Serbia and the Dominican Republic.
When the Philippines played Serbia in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, the Nikola Jokic-led powerhouse crushed Gilas Pilipinas, 126-67.
"Tough group, obviously," said Panlilio.
"But I think it's great for Philippine basketball to just continue to compete internationally, so that we are able to hopefully improve every time," he added. "Kasi the objective naman is to continue to improve every time we compete out there."