'So far, so good' for youngest Gilas pool ever, reports Baldwin

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 23 2021 06:25 PM

'So far, so good' for youngest Gilas pool ever, reports Baldwin 1

MANILA, Philippines -- After a week at the Inspire Sports Academy, Gilas Pilipinas program director Tab Baldwin is mostly satisfied with the progress shown by the young players that they called up to camp. 

With the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) opting not to call up PBA players to the FIBA competitions in June, the national team pool is instead filled with collegiate athletes, some of whom are training with Gilas for the first time.

Leading the way are the full-time Gilas Pilipinas players that the SBP selected in the past two PBA Rookie Drafts: Jordan Heading, Tzaddy Rangel, William Navarro, and Jaydee Tungcab from the 2021 class, and Isaac Go, Matt and Mike Nieto, and Rey Suerte from the 2019 class.

But there are also players who raised eyebrows when they were selected, due in part to their youth and inexperience: Lebron Lopez of Ateneo de Manila High School, RJ Abarrientos of Far Eastern University, Carl Tamayo of the University of the Philippines, and Kyle Ong of Ateneo de Manila University. None of these four players have seen action in the collegiate level yet. 

"Not only is this the youngest Gilas group ever assembled, it's probably the youngest that could be assembled and still be called Gilas. Because if we went any younger, we'd be calling it Batang Gilas," Baldwin said during an appearance on "The Game" on Monday night. 

"But you know, everybody that we brought in here, I believe is, in some way a prospect for Gilas in the future. If they fulfill their potential, if they work to become the player that they are promising to be," he added.

With PBA players unavailable for the upcoming FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers and the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, Baldwin and the Gilas coaches will choose their team from the young pool.

For the veteran mentor, the experience that the players are getting in training camp, and the experience that they will have in the upcoming competitions, will be crucial to their development -- especially if they hope to make it to further editions of Gilas Pilipinas.

"We're preparing for the situations in the future when we call players into the Gilas camp and you know, as it is right now, so many players come in and they just don't I guess, have an idea of the international game, the concepts, and the level of skill and the level of intensity," Baldwin explained. 

"So, if we can begin the process of teaching these younger players, what that is all about, that really helps us in the future, not have to deal with sort of elevating the level of intensity and the level of understanding of our players when they come in the future," he added. 

"We're trying to kill a lot of birds with just this one bubble stone, if I will, if you will. And, so far, so good."

The young Gilas team, which also includes Justine Baltazar, Dave Ildefonso, Dwight Ramos, Chris Koon, and Ange Kouame, will face a difficult task particularly in the Olympic qualifiers in Belgrade, Serbia in late June.

There, they face off against the home team and the Dominican Republic in the group stages, hoping to qualify for the semifinals and stay in the hunt for the lone berth to the Tokyo Olympics that is at stake. 

"When you're going to face a Serbia and a Dominican Republic, well it just doesn't get a lot tougher in the world than that," Baldwin said. "So we have to be super prepared, and we have to be as tough as we can on these players."

"And so far, we're being pretty tough on them," he added. 

Players from the Ateneo Blue Eagles -- Gian Mamuyac, SJ Belangel, Josh Lazaro, Troy Mallillin, Geo Chiu, and Jason Credo -- complete the pool that entered the facility in Calamba, Laguna last March 15. 

Gilas Pilipinas was initially supposed to compete in the third and final window of the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers this month in Doha, Qatar, but the tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will now be held in a bubble in Clark, Pampanga in mid-June. 

Shortly after the qualifiers, Gilas will fly to Serbia for the FIBA OQT. The Philippines was tapped by the world governing body for basketball as the replacement for New Zealand, which withdrew from the competition. 

Baldwin admitted that the scheduling woes had been difficult to deal with, especially as much of it is outside of their control. 

"We're no different, and it is frustrating. But I just tell the players all the time -- just keep it in perspective," he said. 

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