With less than two months to go until the FIBA World Cup, Gilas Pilipinas finally revealed their 19-man training pool last night. They are as follows:
Guards: Mark, Barroca*, Robert Bolick, Paul Lee*, Stanley Pringle, Kiefer Ravena*
Wings: Jordan Clarkson, Marcio Lassiter*, Gabe Norwood, CJ Perez, Roger Pogoy*, Matthew Wright
Bigs: Japeth Aguilar*, Raymund Almazan, Beau Belga, Andray Blatche*, Poy Erram, June Mar Fajardo*, Troy Rosario*, Christian Standhardinger
*mentioned by Yeng Guiao as shoo-ins to the final 12
It’s a pretty solid pool all in all, especially in terms of chemistry and familiarity with Coach Yeng Guiao. Most of them have already played under him either in the PBA or in the last two pockets during the Asian Qualifiers. There is a lot of continuity, which should help to somewhat offset the lack of training time, as usual. Guiao has always maintained that he wanted a smaller pool to build better chemistry but it’s nice to see it expanded a bit.
In terms of guards and wings, they have a lot of options, especially with a couple of new additions and returning players. Bolick and Perez are intriguing if they manage to crack the final 12 with how they’ve been playing and taking over the league the past two conferences. They’re a couple of young legs and could give Gilas a different look. In terms of returning players, Wright is a bit of a wild card. He’s played very well since entering the PBA and should have all the tools necessary to succeed internationally. His numbers suggest otherwise and it is a bit concerning considering he played in most games for then coach Chot Reyes. If he can get his head into it, he should be able to form a formidable wing group with Lassiter and Pogoy.
As for Ravena, I’m not 100% sold on him being a shoo-in having just come back from his 18-month suspension. Yes, he’s taken care of his body and gotten back into shape quickly but the conditioning, timing and being back in game shape are entirely different matters, especially with how long he’s been out. On one hand, his inclusion falls in line with Guiao wanting players familiar with his system and it’s not like he played badly in his previous stint with the senior team. But with the tournament likely his first taste of professional ball and SBP’s goal of making the knockout stages, can they afford to potentially wait for him to get back into game shape? I am personally a big fan of his game but I’m not entirely sure about basically gifting him Jayson Castro’s spot right off the bat. But I’ll be happy to be proven wrong.
The big man rotation will likely be their weakest link once again. And that has to do primarily with size. The problem with most local bigs is that they’re either too short or too thin. For example, Belga has the toughness, ballhandling and shooting but will be a hard option to go with at just 6-5. Almazan, Erram and Rosario provide a bit more length and athleticism but are easily pushed around even on the Asian level. Maybe if they can provide the needed shooting, speed and energy, it’ll be enough to compensate. Blatche, Aguilar and Fajardo can definitely match up size-wise, but they also have their issues, particularly on the defensive end for the latter two. The hope is to also have Fajardo be featured a lot more in Guiao’s offense, even if it’s not exactly catered to post players. As for Blatche, I haven’t been his biggest fan post-2014 World Cup, but if he can be as focused as he was during the last pocket due to what he feels was a snub, then he should be able to lead this team far. They just have to make sure not to rely on him too much and just watch him try to make plays.
Speaking of naturalized players, it is a bit weird that they have four in the pool. Pringle’s inclusion makes sense in that he’s been practicing with the team as compared to Standhardinger, who already begged off once before. Then we have Jordan Clarkson. It looks like they’re still holding on to the hope that he’ll be recognized as a local. I mentioned before that it’s not a bad thing to try. But it is a bad thing to try and basically cram it with less than two months to go, especially with how unlikely it’ll be. They maybe should’ve pushed for a definite answer much earlier so that it doesn’t loom over their heads and/or dominate the headlines. I love how he played and what he provided during the Asian Games, but they have to make do with the players they already have.
Don’t get me wrong, though. Despite a couple of issues, some of them a bit personal, this is still a very good and very solid crop of players. It’s just that a lot has to go right for them and it all starts with the available players and preparation. Once again, they have a lot of familiarity, continuity and a few options. With nine spots basically locked in, Yeng Guiao has a few directions he can go with the last three. Let’s just hope they can prepare as much as they can in the coming month and a half and stay away from any drama in the build up.