With the first leg of the 2020 FIBA Asia Qualifiers starting on Sunday against Indonesia, the Gilas Pilipinas program made several announcements during the buildup that were– interesting. The inclusion of new names and the omission of team main-stays has changed the look and feel of this iteration of the national team.

Some of the new names are already familiar to those who have been even casually monitoring the college scene, but two in particular are telling of the direction Gilas Pilipinas is taking starting with this leg of the tournament. We break down a few of the notable inclusions and what they bring to the team:

Mark Dickel as Gilas head coach

Toby Pavon: Mark Dickel’s announcement as head coach for Gilas Pilipinas in the upcoming FIBA window was met with– underwhelming response. People weren’t really excited by the choice neither were they completely reviled by it. There’s not much objection to him being named to this post, mainly because of his history with Gilas program director Tab Baldwin. Dickel has had close ties with Baldwin who is widely recognized to be a positive influence on any team he is involved with (see: Ateneo Blue Eagles).

However, there lack of excitement for the Dickel pick is because of his lack luster performance in the PBA. He was supposed to be the infusion of talent and basketball knowledge to pull TNT Ka Tropa out of their rut, and for the most part he has been that– except in the playoffs. Failing to come up with a single championship in three conferences, Mark Dickel’s prowess as a coach has come into question when it comes to the playoffs. He has shown that his style of play can be successful as seen in all the elimination round runs TNT had last season, constantly finishing on the top brackets.

Based on the players he chose for the final lineup to play in the coming leg of the FIBA tournament, it’s evident how he intends to run the team and how he’ll look to implement his system.

The system

Toby Pavon: As seen in the past conferences of TNT Ka Tropa, Mark Dickel runs a Euro-ish offensive system that relies a lot on penetration and spacing. The best this system was ran was in the Commissioner’s Cup when TNT had Terrence Jones with them, running the picks off Jayson Castro. His offense depends a lot on having the ball handler be able to beat his man off the dribble or off the pick and roll, and then kicking it out to a shooter. 

To over simplify, Dickel’s system is three and layups, space and pace. This makes the inclusion of players like Roger Pogoy and all the point guards in the lineup not surprising. He’s going to want an off-ball scorer like Pogoy playing off ball-dominant playmakers like Kiefer Ravena, Matt Nieto and Juan Gomez De Liano.

The most interesting picks are the small forwards, Thirdy and CJ, both of whom are athletic do-it-alls. Much like what Terrence Jones brought to the Ka Tropa in the Commissioner’s cup, expect a lot of forward-position playmaking from this system, especially from Thirdy.

One of the hallmarks of Dickel teams so far is their knack at exploiting mismatches and converting them into quick points. The youth, talent and tendencies of the players in the lineup all fit the mold of what he is trying to do. It will just be a matter of execution and adjustment when the tournament starts.

The Introduction of Dwight Ramos

Karlo Lovenia: The most glaring name in the recently released Gilas Final 12 was Dwight Ramos. His inclusion neither sparked excitement nor anger. The dominant emotion was confusion born out of legitimate curiosity. In the truest sense: Why was he put into this lineup?

Dwight is a mystery at this point. Outside of games with Ateneo’s Glory Be team and his three outings in the recently concluded NCAA-UAAP challenge, basketball fans haven’t had the opportunity to properly assess his game. He’s around 6’5” with a chiseled frame and an aura that screams rebel teenager’s dream. But in the basketball court, what exactly can he provide?

This was a brave move by Coach Mark Dickel to throw Dwight into the fire this early. Mind you, brave does not mean foolish. It’s safe to say the coaching staff has their reasons for already putting the mysterious prospect in the National Team. But there is always a sense of risk and chance involved when building a roster and picking players to serve a country. Once Dwight does introduce himself, then we’ll find out if the gamble was worth it.

Can this be the true start of the Gilas youth movement?

Karlo Lovenia: Program director Tab Baldwin used the term “long-term” to describe the logic behind the choice in the current Gilas pool. It’s warranted; most of the players in the team are either college players or recent graduates. The team captain, Kiefer Ravena, is just 26 years old. This entire team screams youth.

But the question is; is this going to be a true long-term program, or is the use of that term mere PR? Doubt continues to creep in the minds of basketball fans and you can’t blame them. We’ve seen this before with gimmicks like the Gilas 23 for 23 pool just a few years ago. Is the construction of this roster of players truly meant for basketball and not mere marketing?

Sending this much young talent in the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers is a great start. How they perform will likely tell us whether the entire idea of a youth movement is plausible in the first place. Say, this young Gilas roster underperforms; it’s a possibility! Filipinos hope patience is practiced and the program isn’t suddenly flipped again. More than success, fans just want to see an actual program at work. And you can’t call yourself a program if you aren’t willing to fail then learn.