MANILA, Philippines -- The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) wanted PBA players to get some time off after a grueling campaign in the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup -- thus their exclusion from the national team training pool for the upcoming FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifying window.
The SBP's training pool for the upcoming qualifiers is bannered by collegiate players as well as the five professionals loaned by their mother teams to Gilas Pilipinas -- Isaac Go, Matt Nieto, Mike Nieto, Allyn Bulanadi, and Rey Suerte.
There were some talks that players from eliminated PBA teams -- TerraFirma, NLEX, NorthPort, and Blackwater -- could have been added to the training pool, but SBP instead decided to give them a much-needed break.
"The reality there is, we saw kung gaano 'yung hardship ng mga PBA players natin inside the bubble for a long, long time," said Ryan Gregorio, the special assistant to SBP president Al Panlilio, during a recent appearance on "2OT." "Being away from their families, and also the wear and tear -- not just the physical aspect, but also their mental health."
PBA teams had to play a compact schedule in the bubble in Clark, Pampanga, with each team playing back-to-back games at least once.
Given the circumstances, Gregorio said the decision makers in SBP felt it would be best to give players like Kiefer Ravena and Christian Standhardinger the opportunity to rest and recover first. Both players were included in the training pool in the first qualifying window last February, although Standhardinger eventually withdrew due to injury. Ravena went on to serve as team captain.
"This is the best time to understand the predicament of our pro players," Gregorio explained. "They will always say yes for national interest, but at this point, mabuti na bigyan muna natin sila ng kaunting pahinga."
Gregorio guaranteed that in the next qualifying window in February 2021, the PBA players will again be called to duty.
"For the next window for sure, for February, the best talents in Philippine basketball is in the PBA, and alam natin 'yan," he said. "We'll always be ready, knocking on their doors just to make sure na meron tayong reinforcement."
"But for this, talagang confluence of events ito eh -- the timing of our preparation, noong pagpasok namin sa bubble at 'yung paglabas naman nila doon sa kanilang own bubble," he added.
For now, the Philippines will lean on a young squad when Gilas competes in a bubble in Manama, Bahrain later this month. It is unlikely that Gilas will have a naturalized player in the squad as well, with Ange Kouame's papers still being processed.
Despite these challenges, Gregorio said what's most crucial is for the national team to return to the court.
"At this point, what we want to do is to make sure that we get back on the basketball court," he explained. "There is a bigger responsibility for us to make sure that the Philippines is represented in our restart."
"'Yun ang mas malalim na kahulugan diyan eh, basketball should not stop," he added.
The Philippines will play Thailand and Indonesia on November 26-30 in Bahrain. They have a 1-0 record in Group A after beating Indonesia, 100-70, in February.
At the moment, the team is training at the Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna.