Friday, January 3, 2014

Will Gilas Pilipinas tweak roster?

Gilas coach Chot Reyes said recently he’s open to make changes in the national team lineup. He declined to suggest names to invite to the pool in deference to the PBA Board of Governors whose clearance is required before any player is drafted.
Gilas Pilipinas National team lineup
The difficulty that Reyes faces is the limited training period before Gilas leaves to compete at the FIBA World Cup in Spain on Aug. 30-Sept. 14. It will only be between two to four weeks as the national team awaits the finish of the PBA season. 

The rule of thumb is a national team needs at least two months of training for a high-level international competition like the World Cup.

Reyes said he will begin once a week practices, every Monday, in February after the end of the Philippine Cup. Obviously, that will hardly be sufficient. For sure, there will be attempts to invite foreign teams to play exhibition games here for Gilas to warm up. But whether the games will happen or not is a big question mark. You also don’t know which foreign teams are available, putting to doubt the competitiveness of the games.

A jaded spectator said it doesn’t matter if Gilas trains two weeks or two months because in Spain, the Filipinos’ fate is sealed. Gilas is guaranteed to play five games because there will be six teams in a bracket. After the preliminaries, the last two placers in each of the four brackets will be struck out of contention, leaving only 16 out of the original 24 entries. The 16 survivors then slug it out in knockout games with the eight winners advancing to the knockout quarterfinals. The four quarterfinal winners face off in the semifinals where the survivors dispute the gold medal and the losers battle for third place. That means a team that goes all the way to the finals will play a total of nine games.

Will Gilas play more than five games? Reyes’ goal is to make it to the knockout stage which will be held in Madrid and Barcelona. That means Gilas must finish in the top four of its bracket. If Gilas doesn’t advance, the Filipinos don’t get a chance to play in Madrid or Barcelona as the preliminaries will be held in Bilbao, Sevilla, Granada and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Everything depends on the luck of the draw. It’s not certain if FIBA will hold an “open” draw on Feb. 3 in Barcelona. An “open” draw means no seeding so that it becomes possible for the top contenders to be bracketed in the same group in the preliminaries. That happened at the last FIBA-Asia Championships where the “open” draw brought powerhouses China, Korea and Iran in the same group. 

If the jaded spectator is to be believed, Gilas doesn’t stand a chance to advance in Spain. But I beg to disagree. The Philippines hasn’t qualified to play in the FIBA World Cup since 1974 or 40 years ago. It played in the 1978 edition but Manila hosted so the Philippines didn’t need to qualify because of its automatic ticket to the Final Eight. This is a chance of a lifetime for the Philippines to showcase its best basketball talent globally. Anything is possible in basketball and if the stars are aligned, Gilas might just surprise the oddsmakers in Spain.

At the same time, Gilas can use the World Cup experience to prepare for the Asian Games in Incheon on Sept. 19-Oct. 4. That will be the stage where the Philippines can prove its silver finish at the last FIBA-Asia Championships was no fluke. The Philippines hasn’t won a medal of any color in basketball at the Asian Games since 1998.

Marcus Douthit is signed to play for Gilas until the end of the Asian Games. He will be 34 in April so it’s likely that a replacement may be recruited for the next FIBA-Asia Championships in 2015, the zonal qualifier for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The Olympics will welcome only 12 teams in basketball so if the Philippines tops the FIBA-Asia Championships next year, it will be among the elite dozen to compete in Rio – a distinct honor.

It’s difficult to speculate who among the current Gilas players may be sidelined in Spain. Of course, the 12 players plus reserve Beau Belga will fly to Spain as was SBP president Manny V. Pangilinan’s promise. But it’s not a commitment that every player will be in the final roster for the World Cup.

Greg Slaughter’s outstanding play as a PBA rookie can’t be ignored and his presence in the Gilas lineup as a sub for Douthit or JuneMar Fajardo should be considered. Marcio Lassiter, Arwind Santos, Sonny Thoss, Kelly Williams and Jay Washington are other possible additions. It won’t be easy for Reyes to choose his final 12. If he’s looking beyond the World Cup and Asian Games, Reyes might bring in young blood.

It’s possible that Reyes will hold off making any lineup decisions until he evaluates the strength or weakness of Gilas’ bracket after the Feb. 3 draw. Once Reyes finds out which five teams Gilas will play in the preliminaries, he could tweak the cast to anticipate matchups. But if his ultimate goal is to go for a medal at the Asian Games, the World Cup draw won’t be much of a factor in determining who will or won’t play in Spain.

At the moment, 20 teams are assured of playing in Spain and No. 34 Philippine outranks only No. 41 Senegal, No. 45 Ukraine and No. 46 Egypt. FIBA will award slots to four wildcards in an attribution meeting during the Central Board assembly in Barcelona on Feb. 1-2. There are 15 countries in line for four wildcard tickets and the Philippines outranks only No. 37 Israel, No. 39 Finland, No. 40 Poland and No. 42 Qatar. It’s likely that No. 10 Brazil (as 2016 Olympic host), No. 12 China (because of its mass market), No. 7 Turkey (the Turkish appliance and consumer electronics brand Beko is a major sponsor) and No. 6 Russia (2012 Olympic bronze medalist) or No. 21 Italy (eighth placer in the last Eurobasket Championships) will be picked.


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