FIBA: Lebron Lopez to make Gilas debut against Indonesia

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 15 2021 07:09 PM

FIBA: Lebron Lopez to make Gilas debut against Indonesia 1
Gilas Pilipinas swingman Francis "Lebron" Lopez.

MANILA, Philippines -- High-flying forward Francis "Lebron" Lopez will make his debut for the Gilas Pilipinas men's team when it plays Indonesia in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers on Friday.

Lopez, still only 18 years old, will be playing for the national team program for the first time. He has yet to play collegiate basketball but was called up to the training pool earlier this year and has been working out with Gilas Pilipinas for several weeks now.

"He has has shown tremendous talent and athleticism," said Ryan Gregorio, special assistant to Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) president Al Panlilio, of Lopez. 

"At this point, it is essential that he gets to play with more experienced players to accelerate his growth. He is very young. But he has shown maturity well beyond his actual age," he added. "The experience that he will generate this early in his basketball life will turn out to be very important in his journey as a Gilas Pilipinas player."

Aside from Lopez, also set to play against Indonesia are Jordan Heading and Geo Chiu, both of whom will make their senior team debuts after stints with the youth program.

Heading, one of the players that the SBP selected in last March's PBA Rookie Draft, is dealing with a "minor issue" in his hip, according to Gregorio, which is why he will sit out Gilas' first game of the window against South Korea on Wednesday.

"But the plan is to utilize him against Indonesia," he also said.

The trio will take the place of Mike Nieto, Javi Gomez de Liano, and Jaydee Tungcab in the final 12. 

They will be joined by RJ Abarrientos, Justine Baltazar, SJ Belangel, Isaac Go, Ange Kouame, Will Navarro, Dwight Ramos, Kai Sotto and Carl Tamayo, who will all play against South Korea on Wednesday. 

FIBA: Lebron Lopez to make Gilas debut against Indonesia 2

Even as a juniors player, Lopez has already made a name for himself thanks to his highlight reel plays. In Season 82, he put up 16.0 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks per game for the Ateneo Blue Eaglets, and made the tournament's Mythical Team.

But Gregorio said that the young forward still has plenty to learn about the game.

"Another aspect in his game that he needs to develop is his understanding of the game," he said. "Surely, he can jump out of the gym, but the challenge for him would be to play basketball in accordance to the system that is being set in place."

"This is where the coaching of Coach Tab will come into play," he added.

Game time against Indonesia is at 6 p.m.