MANILA, Philippines -- With the PBA Philippine Cup in full swing, PBA players and coaches will not be available for the national team in the November window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers.
Gilas Pilipinas program director Tab Baldwin confirmed Tuesday that they have ruled out the possibility of calling up the professional players for November when FIBA competitions return after being put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We don't expect the PBA bubble to be able to be broken in any way," Baldwin said in an appearance on "Sports Page" on Tuesday night. "So at this point, we certainly are ruling out the inclusion of PBA players and coaches."
Seven PBA players suited up for the Philippines in the first window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers in February -- team captain Kiefer Ravena, CJ Perez, Poy Erram, Justin Chua, Abu Tratter, Roger Pogoy, and Troy Rosario.
With former Ateneo de Manila University star Thirdy Ravena leading the way, Gilas routed Indonesia, 100-70, in their only game so far of the qualifiers.
The team was coached by TNT active consultant Mark Dickel, with Sandy Arespacochaga, Topex Robinson, and Alex Compton serving as his assistants. All of them will be unavailable for the next window, as Arespacochaga and Robinson are also in the PBA bubble, and Compton has emigrated to the United States with his family.
This puts Gilas Pilipinas in a difficult situation with just a month to go before the next window, where they are expected to play South Korea and Thailand.
At the moment, they have five players available -- Isaac Go, Matt and Mike Nieto, Allyn Bulanadi, and Rey Suerte. The five were selected in the special PBA draft in 2019 and loaned to the national team program. University of the Philippines guard JD Tungcab may also be part of the group, as well as Ravena should he be released by his Japan B.League team.
"That means that we have to either look at players who are overseas, that are domiciled overseas, which again are very difficult because they more than likely have schedules going on right now," said Baldwin.
"Or, look into our college ranks, which is probably the most likely and the one that Coach Ryan (Gregorio) and I are spending most of our time working on right now," he added.
The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas has yet to name a full-time head coach for the national team as well, and it remains to be seen who will call the shots for Gilas in the November window.
However, Gregorio revealed that they intend to include veteran coach Jong Uichico in the coaching staff.
"We're looking at guys who are not part of the bubble, and that staff who might be able to help us in the coming window," Gregorio added.
The most immediate concern for the team, however, is when they can get together and start practicing again. Baldwin admits that their six-month inactivity due to the pandemic has hurt their development, and they have yet to receive approval from the government to resume training.
This, Gregorio said, is what they are working on at the moment, especially with the qualifying window looming.
"I think that's the biggest issue that we're facing right now. Players are ready to play, but are we allowed to play as a team? That is the question that we're waiting for an answer up to this point," he said.
FIBA announced last September that the November and February qualifying windows of continental tournaments will be held in "bubbles," similar to what was done by several leagues in the United States, including the NBA. The PBA is also holding the Philippine Cup in a bubble in Clark, Pampanga, which is expected to last until December.
However, the world governing body for basketball has yet to announce further details, including the location of the bubble and the exact dates of the competition.