MANILA, Philippines — Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes and Jong Uichico won't be surprised if their competitors in the 2017 SEABA Championship will include a naturalized player in their rosters for the regional tournament on May 12-18.
The Philippines will of course have their own naturalized player in Andray Blatche, who is expected to arrive in the country by the last week of April in time to join the national team in its daily practices that start on May 1.
Besides training, Gilas is also preparing for the SEABA Championship by scouting their opponents, with Uichico, Josh Reyes, and Jimmy Alapag all having watched games of the other participating countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Thus, the team will have some idea of who should give them the toughest test in the event that they have traditionally dominated.
"We know that Thailand is going to be tough," said Reyes. "We know that Indonesia is going to be tough. We can't discount Singapore and Malaysia."
"I think it's Thailand and Indonesia that have two to three naturalized players," he added.
Having a naturalized player in their roster should be a huge boost to the other Southeast Asian countries, whose level of basketball has improved rapidly in recent years to challenge the Philippines for supremacy in the region.
"For sure, they'll show up (in Manila) with one naturalized player," Uichico said. "Malaking bagay kasi they can fill in their gaps. The kind of players that they are missing can be filled by the naturalized player."
Indonesia, for instance, has included former Far Eastern University center Anthony Hargrove and Jamarr Johnson in their national team pool as naturalized players. Only one of them can be included in the final roster for the SEABA Championship, however, as per FIBA rules.
For the most part, though, the Gilas coaches are in the dark as to who will serve as the naturalized players of their SEABA opponents.
"We don't know who they're naturalizing," Uichico admitted. "Kung player sa player lang, alam na natin more or less kung sino ang maglalaro. Pero their naturalized players, we have no idea."
Aside from having a naturalized player, teams like Thailand and Singapore have also greatly benefited from the ASEAN Basketball League, according to Uichico.
"Thailand will always be strong, and Singapore will always be strong. They've improved already, lalo na because of the ABL," said Uichico. "Before, medyo kulang sila ng laro. Pero ngayon, because of the ABL, they get more experience playing so their level of basketball, medyo tumaas na."
Thus, Reyes and Uichico believe it will be in their best interest to send a full-strength team to the SEABA Championship. After all, the tournament serves as the qualifier to the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup in August; if they don't win the SEABA, Gilas can kiss its dreams of making it to the 2020 Olympics goodbye.
"For me we should always send a full strength squad, because by not sending a full strength squad, that means we are taking the other teams for granted," said Uichico.
"Sometimes, they say it's an overkill but we're there to win. Basta we win. We give the best chance of the team winning."
The final roster of players will be revealed on April 28, according to Reyes. The tournament will be held from May 12 to 18 at the Araneta Coliseum.
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