NEW TAIPEI CITY, Taiwan—Fight for stardom in the Philippine Basketball Association or continue serving the national flag.
The majority of the Smart Gilas Pilipinas players are torn between two golden opportunities that could shape their careers after the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas committed to extend the national team program all the way to the Asian qualifying of the 2014 Fiba World Championship.
“I don’t know. Honestly, I’m still thinking about it,” said Marcio Lassiter, considered the Nationals’ best wing defender.
“Same here. Right now I just want to play hard for the (national) team and decide when I come back,” said Chris Lutz, a United States-trained player with Filipino roots like Lassiter.
Lassiter and Lutz, who both came from a US NCAA Division I school before finding a niche in coach Rajko Toroman’s rotation, were the early birds when the pro league opened the application for the freshman lottery.
Both, however, could still opt out of the draft, scheduled Aug. 28, if they want to.
They face the same dilemma as the other Smart Gilas players following the announcement of SBP president Manny V. Pangilinan that team sponsors have agreed to extend the program for two more years.
Players were also told to make a choice between the PBA and the national team during the sendoff dinner hosted by Pangilinan last week prior to the team’s departure for the William Jones Cup tournament here.
Aside from Lutz and Lassiter, team captain Chris Tiu, JV Casio and Mac Baracael have also remained undecided while Mark Barroca, Dylan Ababou and Jason Ballesteros seem inclined to join pros.
“I haven’t really decided,” said Tiu. “Some of the other guys are also thinking of either staying or applying (for the draft). But given the chance to serve for flag and country, I would gladly do it.”
Forward Japeth Aguilar, the top pick in the draft two years ago, could also rejoin the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters in the PBA or stay with the Nationals, who are sure to keep naturalized center Marcus Douthit even after the Fiba Asia Championship next month.
Smart Gilas’ three-year program will reach its climax in the Asian championship on Sept. 15 to 25 in Wuhan, China, where the lone continental slot to the London Olympics is at stake.
The extension will give the country longer preparation for the 2013 Fiba Asia event.