Gilas Pilipinas Men’s has just opened their 2020 FIBA Asia Qualifying Tournament campaign with a resounding win over Indonesia. The 100 – 70 final score reflects the dominance displayed by the newly assembled national squad, many of whom wore the Pilipinas jersey for the first time. From the coach to the players, here are just some of the highlights of the Sunday night showdown:

Mark Dickel learning from the master 

Toby Pavon: The offensive system we saw Gilas Pilipinas run against Indonesia was lightyears away from the offense Mark Dickel used for the TNT KaTropa in their recent PBA campaigns. More reminiscent of his mentor Tab Baldwin’s offense, we saw Gilas Pilipinas run an offensive system that was marked by constant movement and multiple off-ball screens, that is, if they hadn’t already scored in transition.

Where in TNT, the action would focus on spreading the floor in order to allow the point guard (often Jayson Castro) to run a pick and roll, often ending up in a kick out pass to someone open in the perimeter after forcing the defense to collapse on his drive, instead, Gilas under Dickel’s tutelage was initiating the offense with a down cut from the point guard, which draws the defense to a player not holding the ball. From here we saw a series of consecutive screens that would end with a pass to an open shooter.

At the midpoint of the 2nd quarter, Dickel was telling the players to extend the development of their sets and to allow the ball to flow more before taking the shots. This is what got Gilas the double-digit advantage, along with the fact that Indonesia wasn’t at the peak of their execution abilities either.

The general youth of the players matched the energy required to run the system designed for them, with some minor issues coming from the relatively short preparation time. They were executing but not yet at an ideal rate. But they knew what they were doing. They were organized and purposeful, something coach Dickel deserves to be credited for.

Thirdy makes his mark as Gilas leader

Karl Batungbacal: He has finally arrived. The UAAP witnessed Thirdy Ravena’s transformation from starting off as an end of the bench player known only for his athleticism and relationship to Kiefer into becoming the league’s most dominant wing who can takeover the games at will. Having three Finals MVP awards should be proof enough of this drastic transformation.

Many wondered how well his game would transition to the pro and international scenes. We caught glimpses of it during their 4th place finish during the 2018 William Jones Cup, in which he showcased his trademark athleticism and newfound ability to find teammates anywhere on the court. Credit his development to Coach Tab Baldwin’s genius. After the Jones Cup stint, many would soon remark that the younger Ravena was poised to be a cornerstone of the Gilas program and his inclusion into the team for this window in the FIBA Asian Cup Qualifiers was no surprise.

The younger Ravena showed from the onset that he is worthy of being called up as his play was key to helping Gilas break the game wide open in the second half. His athleticism shined throughout the game, moreso when he connected with brother Kiefer on an alley-oop play that led to an and-one and then an emphatic block on a fastbreak attempt by the Indonesians. He finished the game as the team’s leading scorer with 23 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Thirdy also sunk in a couple of treys early on, an ability he had trouble with in his early UAAP career. 

It’s just one game but Thirdy Ravena continues to develop his game. As it stands, he’s perfect for the international scene as his mix of size, strength, and ability is exactly what Gilas needs to succeed in these competitions. Should he choose to forgo the PBA draft and stick with his mentor in Coach Tab with Gilas, nobody would blame him for doing so. 

The Youth Movement is in full effect 

Gio Gloria: While constant pronouncements on Gilas’ youth, relative inexperience, and the short preparation time have tempered expectations for this squad, yesterday’s game against Indonesia had moments which got avid followers of Philippine basketball excited but also served as a reminder that some of these players are still straight out of college basketball or fresh off their rookie and sophomore PBA campaigns. Even with the 23-5 advantage over Indonesia in fast break points, thanks in large part to the youth and athleticism of this team, there were instances when that same youth presented itself as a double-edged sword. 

Thirdy Ravena’s impact was felt throughout the game, while his teammates and special Gilas draftees Matt Nieto and Isaac Go had flashes of solid moments, but also had trouble adjusting to playing against older and more rugged players. Nieto had six assists but his defensive assignment was constantly beating him off pick-and-roll situations. Meanwhile, Go could not capitalize on Indonesia’s lack of height apart from his seven rebounds. 

Even the professionals themselves were a relatively young bunch, with Roger Pogoy, Kiefer Ravena, and Troy Rosario among the more experienced veterans. CJ Perez made a good account for himself in this game with his 11 points, seven rebounds, and four steals, but there were moments he got too excited with the ball and thus made some unnecessary errors. The PBA representatives were also not accustomed to being the primary options on the team, and it showed in how they were called for a number of unnecessary fouls in the first half and for some parts of the third quarter. While some would attribute this to the difference in PBA and FIBA officiating, the players need to learn to be more disciplined once they play tougher opponents in the next qualifying windows.