MANILA, Philippines -- The program director of the Philippine national basketball team is pleased with the overall performance of a youthful Gilas Pilipinas squad in the November 2020 window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers, but he expects the roster will look different for the next qualifying window in February 2021.
With the country's professionals still playing in the PBA Philippine Cup in Clark, Pampanga, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas put together a team of fresh graduates and collegiate players. The team, which had no PBA experience, came away with two wins in two games against Thailand in the FIBA bubble in Manama, Bahrain.
"I think we were all pleasantly surprised with the outcome," Tab Baldwin, the Gilas Pilipins program director, said in a recent appearance on Coaches' Unfiltered.
There were plenty of concerns heading into the Bahrain bubble as the young Gilas squad was set to play a Thai team composed of professional players. But it took them just one quarter before pulling away for a 93-61 win in the first game, then weathered an inspired performance from Chanatip Jakrawan in the second game to seize a 93-69 victory.
"Going to Bahrain after going after results, we were able to get two wins, so everybody walks away feeling very good about themselves," said Baldwin.
Several players from the young group impressed, including Ateneo commit Dwight Ramos who made headlines for his "perfect" performance in the first game. Juan Gomez de Liano was later tabbed as one of the five best performers in the qualifying window after solid outings in both contests.
Baldwin however made clear that as impressive as the youthful team was, the coaching staff still saw plenty of areas of concern.
"As coaches, we probably saw more of the problems, more of the negatives than an average fan," said Baldwin. "The coaching staff walks away realizing there's a lot to work on."
"But we have an excellent environment now to begin developing and building better basketball players and a better basketball system," he added.
Already, talks are being held regarding the composition of the team that will compete in the next qualifying window, scheduled for February next year. It remains to be seen where the qualifiers will be held, though the Philippines has volunteered to host at least one group in a bubble set-up.
Al Panlilio, the president of the SBP, has said that he hopes to see a mix of PBA players and young cadets come the February window. Baldwin has similar thoughts, as he wants an extended pool of players to choose from in the next stage of the qualifiers.
"We are planning, and obviously we have to talk to all of our partners that are involved in the basketball landscape," said Baldwin. "We've already seen Boss Al's comments in the media that we will probably be looking at bringing PBA players back in the mix."
"Those were his comments, and I support that," he added. "Certainly, we're hoping to have access to the same pool of players, and if we can extend that to other players…. That would be great as well."
Aside from having PBA players in the pool, Baldwin is also crossing his fingers that Ateneo center Ange Kouame will be available come February. Kouame, who hails from the Ivory Coast, took a big step towards naturalization last week when the House Committee on Justice approved the bill seeking to grant him Filipino citizenship.
If other players also become naturalized -- such as Justin Brownlee or Chris McCullough -- then all the better for the program, said Baldwin.
"As a coach and somebody that sits at the side of Gilas, I'm hopeful that we get a huge pool of players that we can sit back and decide from," he said. "But that's just my wishlist."
"At the end of the day, we want all of our partners… to feel a part of the Gilas program. We want them to feel that they're involved in the Gilas program, and we want all of our players to have the opportunity to represent the country and vie for a position in the team," he stressed.