MANILA, Philippines -- Spirits are high within the Gilas Pilipinas camp after their comfortable triumph on Monday against Saudi Arabia, with players confident that they are building "something special" within the team.
The Philippines recovered from a slow start that saw them score a paltry 11 points in the first quarter, and came away with an 84-46 demolition of the visiting Saudi Arabians. Jordan Clarkson was sensational in his home debut, with 23 points, six assists, and five rebounds.
The win gave Gilas a 3-3 record in the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers, as they bounced back from a slim 85-81 loss to Lebanon in the first game of the fourth window.
"I think we did a good job. The emphasis that we put on ourselves from the last game, I think we accomplished that," Clarkson said after the game. "We came out here and we executed and everybody played well, everybody played hard, and you know, gave their best effort."
Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes made one change from the line-up that lost to Lebanon, putting in Roosevelt Adams in place of Carl Tamayo. The University of the Philippines star had to leave to join the Fighting Maroons in their training camp in South Korea.
The team broke the game open in the third quarter, out-scoring Saudi Arabia, 24-8. Despite struggling to get their rhythm on offense, the Filipinos still had their share of crowd-pleasing dunks and fancy layups, to the delight of nearly 20,000 fans at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Afterward, they expressed their satisfaction with the result and hope that it will be something for them to build on.
"Hopefully we can keep this team together. Hopefully, we can keep building," said Meralco's Chris Newsome, who played in both games this window after being cleared to suit up for Gilas as a local.
"This team has a lot of chemistry, and like I said, as long as everyone stays healthy, and we can keep this core together, I think we're capable of doing big things," he added. "The chemistry is definitely there, I think the athleticism is there. You can see we're very athletic, and we have a lot of potential."
Dwight Ramos, whose posterization of Saudi Arabia's Mohammed Almarwani in the second quarter brought the crowd to its feet, believes that the line-up they currently have is "really strong."
"I think if anything, it needs minor tweaks," he said. "But whatever the coach decides, that's what we're going. I think this team is good already… Honestly, I think this is one of our stronger lineups and it was exciting."
And Kiefer Ravena, a veteran of several international battles with Gilas Pilipinas, said the team is still a work in progress but their outlook is positive.
"Marami pang madadagdag d'yan. If we got enough time together, this could be something special," he said. "Tiwala lang sa nangyayari ngayon. It's a little bit rough pero the team is sticking with one another. 'Yun ang pinakaimportante sa amin."
VERSATILITY IS KEY
Reyes acknowledged after the game that the core of the current team will likely see action in next year's FIBA Basketball World Cup as well, though they are still considering a few other players. The window was crucial because they got to see how newcomers such as Newsome, Roosevelt, and Jamie Malonzo fit with longer-tenured players including Ramos.
Reyes also wanted to see how Ramos would fit alongside Clarkson and Kai Sotto, who appear to be shoo-ins for next year's squad.
What's crucial, the coach said, is that they build a versatile squad that can play different styles of basketball.
"We also had a chance to test the versatility of the team, sometimes we go big when we have Kai and Japeth [Aguilar] together," he said. "Sometimes, we go regular, or sometimes we go small when we don't have a real power four guy on the floor."
"I think that's important moving forward that we become adaptable. We are shapeshifters, I like to call it, we can adapt to what the game needs and what the opposition brings to us," he added.
Reyes will have another opportunity to evaluate the Gilas players in the fifth window of the World Cup qualifiers, scheduled for November.