Why RJ Abarrientos, SJ Belangel were invited to Gilas camp

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 24 2021 01:51 PM | Updated as of Mar 24 2021 04:52 PM

Why RJ Abarrientos, SJ Belangel were invited to Gilas camp 1
RJ Abarrientos and SJ Belangel. FIBA.basketball/ABS-CBN Sports


MANILA, Philippines -- Gilas Pilipinas director Tab Baldwin will be the first to acknowledge that young guards RJ Abarrientos and SJ Belangel do not necessarily fit the "physical prototype" that they are looking for in national team players.

Speaking to Carlo Pamintuan on "The Game," Baldwin explained that there are "certain criteria" that they consider when selecting players for the international game.

"Certainly, the elite players at whatever age we're talking about, we do want them," said Baldwin, who is currently at the Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna where Gilas is holding a training camp.

"But beyond that, we're looking for length in players, and we're looking for intangibles. We're looking for, let's say, an advanced understanding of the game," he said.

This is what both Abarrientos and Belangel possess that qualified them for the national team pool, said the coach. 

"These two guys aren't really the physical prototypes that we're looking for. But they're sort of around the Kiefer Ravena model," said Baldwin.

Ravena, the NLEX point guard, is a "very, very clever basketball player, who reads the game extremely well."

"Both RJ and SJ are cut from that same mold," Baldwin noted. "So what they might lack in the elite talent, they make up for in you know, a basketball IQ that is very advanced."

Abarrientos, the nephew of Philippine basketball legend Johnny Abarrientos, has previously represented the country in the FIBA 3x3 circuit and will suit up for Far Eastern University in college. Belangel, meanwhile, plays for Baldwin at Ateneo de Manila University.

Abarrientos has already shown what he can do on the international stage during the FIBA 3x3 Asia Cup 2019, when he led an undermanned Philippine team to a victory over Iran. They finished in 16th place in the tournament despite playing without the injured Ricci Rivero for the bulk of the event.

Belangel, for his part, has represented the Philippines in the youth level and served as the chief back-up to Matt Nieto in the past two UAAP seasons. He is expected to take over as the starting point guard of the Blue Eagles in their upcoming campaign.

For Baldwin, these two players can make a difference in the international stage thanks to their basketball IQs, even if they do not fit the physical profile that they look for.

"In the international game, because it's not an overly athletic game, it is a very, very intellectual game, a player like that can fit in, even if they are physically a little bit inferior," the coach explained.

"So those are the things we're really looking for… The guys that have that, just that IQ, where the game comes easy to them, in spite of their physical assets or deficiencies."

Both guards will be considered for the Philippine team that will compete in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers in mid-June and the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Serbia on June 29 to July 4.

Baldwin and the Gilas coaching staff chose a younger group of players for the upcoming competitions, after the SBP and the PBA decided against calling up professional players as the schedule is in conflict with the league's upcoming season.

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