The Samahang Basketboll ng Pilipinas (SBP) recently released the 24-man pool for the February window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers and a quick glance on the list will tell you one thing: they are focusing on giving the youth a chance to perform on a big stage. Out of the 24 players on the list, 13 are straight out of college or still playing at the collegiate level.
Heading the youth movement are Isaac Go, Rey Suerte, Allyn Bulanadi Matt and Mike Nieto – the top five players who were picked in last month’s Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Draft. Completing the cast are Thirdy Ravena, Jaydee Tungcab, Kobe Paras, Dave Ildefonso, Dwight Ramos, Justine Baltazar, Juan and Javi Gomez De Liaño.
They are all talented athletes, but here are six that we believe will make a big impact in the coming qualifiers against Thailand and Indonesia on February 20 and 23 respectively.
Colin Salao: No one else on the list of 24 names offers the same combination of size and skills that Isaac Go brings to the table. At 6’8” and about 230 pounds, the first pick of the PBA’s 2019 Gilas Pilipinas Draft takes up space like a traditional big, but has the ability to stretch out all the way to the three-point line. He’s not only an intriguing overall talent, but perhaps a necessary one considering the lack of true Centers included in the pool (Poy Erram is the only other player listed at center).
Go still has a lot of things to work on. He has never been known for his rebounding despite being a big man and he’s still noticeably slower than most players, something that could make him a liability on the defensive end. Moreover, his three-pointer shot, supposedly his most important weapon, has been spotty over his last two years at Ateneo.
His skill set is hard to ignore, and it’s made even better by his great character and IQ on the basketball court. He offers enough upside and fit to be thrown on there by Gilas.
Juro Morilla: The youngest player in the pool has a good chance of claiming a spot in the final line-up for the first window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers. Despite his age, Ildefonso has already competed at the international stage on several occasions. Just last year, the 19-year old was part of the Philippine team that participated in the FIBA U-19 Basketball World Cup. The former Blue Eaglet played a whopping 33.3 minutes per game under head coach Sandy Arespacochaga while posting 16.6 points per game (ppg), 5.4 rebounds per game (rpg), and 3.7 assists per game (apg).
Ildefonso’s main strength is his scoring prowess. Whether it’s inside the paint or way beyond the three-point line, expect him to get buckets at an absurd rate.
Juro Morilla: Over the past decade, De La Salle University has produced a myriad of top quality big men. One of them is Baltazar – whose growth with the Green Archers has been one of the feel good stories in the UAAP. The former Bullpup started his collegiate career playing fifth fiddle behind Ben Mbala, Abu Tratter, Jason Perkins, and Prince Rivero back in Season 79. Fast forward to today, Baltazar has climbed his way up to being a main option in the offensive end and acting as the anchor on defense. His scintillating play in the past two UAAP campaigns has earned him two Mythical Five awards and most importantly, a call-up to the Gilas Pilipinas pool.
Aside from his height, rebounding excellence, and shot-blocking ability, his decent face-up game might just be his golden ticket to the final line-up for the February window. The lanky big man has a magnificent post-up game, but he has expanded his shooting range recently – which will be crucial to spacing on offense. This will force the opponent guarding him to contest his jumpers and leave the paint wide open for slashers.
Colin Salao: The third pick of PBA’s 2019 Gilas Draft gets the nod on this list for his ability to run the show at point. The five-year starter of Ateneo will offer Gilas a young yet experienced floor general, with Nieto having played for the youth Gilas squads all throughout his career.
Moreover, we believe Nieto is the right choice here to fill the void at the back-up or third string point guard position. Nieto’s former teammate, Kiefer Ravena, is the only pure point guard in the pool. CJ Perez, who played point for Gilas in the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, could see time at that position, but the hyper-athletic Columbian star functions more as a wing at the pro-level. Juan Gomez De Liano could also be considered for this position, but after a subpar season with the Fighting Maroons, plus the fact that he played off-guard for UP throughout his career, Matt Nieto is the safer choice here.
Juro Morilla: The high-flying forward from the University of the Philippines had a stellar campaign with the Fighting Maroons last season as he was able to help the team reach the Final Four for the second consecutive year and collect his first individual accolade in the UAAP (Mythical Five). When in the zone, Paras is capable of dominating the game on both ends of the floor. Defensively, his 6’6 frame and athleticism allows him to switch and guard any opponent. This versatility will be pivotal if ever he makes the final cut. Meanwhile, on the offensive end, he is a match-up problem to smaller wings and slow-footed forwards. Just like Ildefonso, he is a scoring machine as he can knock-down shots all over the floor. Paras can also energize the crowd with his highlight plays – which will be a huge asset to the team creating momentum for the team and breaking the opposing team’s momentum.
His experiences playing in the United States and previous Gilas stints (2017 SEA Games, 3×3 tournaments) will give him an edge over the non-professional hopefuls in the pool.
Colin Salao: This isn’t a debate — Thirdy Ravena is making the team.
If you still need to ask why, then I’ll give you three reasons:
Season 81 UAAP Finals Game 2
Season 82 UAAP Finals Game 1
2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers – Gilas VS Qatar
Thirdy is an absolute stud, and he gets it done on both ends of the court. The biggest question with him isn’t whether he should make the squad, but what his role with Gilas will be moving forward. While he has the talent to be one of the team’s stars, his lack of a reliable jumpshot is concerning, especially if his game is to adapt to the international style of play.
The worst case scenario for Thirdy is that he becomes an uber-athletic defensive stopper, plus a facilitator from the wing. I’d say he could perhaps continue to give what Gabe Norwood has provided for a decade. Best case scenario — he becomes much more.