MANILA, Philippines -- As impressive as the Gilas Cadets were during the November 2020 window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers, the country's basketball governing body is looking to field an even "tougher" team in the next qualifying window.
Al Panlilio, the president of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), expects PBA players to compete the February 2021 window, where Gilas Pilipinas will take on South Korea and Indonesia.
Currently, the Philippines holds the top spot in Group A, thanks to their sweep of Thailand in Manama, Bahrain. A young team with no PBA experience defeated Thailand twice in a four-day span to improve the country's record to 3-0 in the qualifiers.
"Having young players come together at such a short time and still perform tremendously gives me so much excitement for what the future holds for Philippine basketball," Panlilio said in a statement on Tuesday, after the national team wrapped up their assignments in Bahrain.
Nonetheless, Panlilio also knows that a more experienced squad will be needed come February 2021, when the Philippines takes on rival South Korea.
South Korea is also unbeaten in the qualifiers at 2-0, but they opted not to compete in the previous window due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. Gilas Pilipinas was scheduled to play one game against the South Koreans.
"I'm sure we'll try to experiment for the second window, especially we're playing Korea, Indonesia. So we wanna be a bit tougher," Panlilio said last Friday, after the elections of the Philippine Olympic Committee wherein he was elected as first vice president.
By that time, PBA players should be available for the national team. The SBP opted to go with an all-cadet line-up in November as the country's professional players were still in the PBA's bubble in Clark, Pampanga.
Some of them had already exited the bubble by the time the squad was put together, but the SBP decided to give the pros a much-needed break after playing a compressed schedule in the Philippine Cup.
"Walang PBA noong time na 'yun," Panlilio said of the February window. "So maybe some players from this team that's playing in Bahrain and maybe some PBA veterans."
This, for Panlilio, is the ideal scenario for the national team moving forward. He is hopeful that the young players who showcased their talents in Bahrain can compete for slots not just for future qualifying windows, but even for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 that the Philippines is co-hosting.
"Of course, the PBA veterans are there, and we will need them also in the team, but it will be nice to see a combination of young Gilas players and your veterans," he said.
"That will be exciting. So really we're looking at this more long term, as I said. And really, if we can improve day by day then I think we're doing a good job," he added.
Jong Uichico, who called the shots for Gilas in the Bahrain bubble, has said that all of the players in the current roster "are in contention" for a spot in the national team line-up for February.
"All of them had their equal chances. We will make that assessment come next year, when we start again our training camp, and we will make our decisions from there," he said.