MANILA, Philippines – The Smart Gilas road map for the country’s return to basketball prominence in the international stage has been fed to the shredder. Take the best amateurs in the country if you want. Train them together as a team for as long as you want. In the end, the experiment will leave you with the bitter reality.
Coach Chot Reyes knows it. And so he’s taking the country’s national basketball program on a familiar route.
Like it or not, the country’s finest players are all in the PBA.
“Our learning before was no matter how well you train young guys, in the end we still had to get PBA players,” said national coach Chot Reyes. “When guys like Jvee Casio, Mark Barocca and others got to the Asian competition, they were 22 years old and they were battling 28-year-olds.”
“They really had no chance.”
Reyes wants the rebooted Smart Gilas team to have a better shot at being releveant again internationally. With the backing of the PBA, Reyes named 16 pros to the national pool.
Throw in Marcus Douthit – or JaVale McGee, if he gets naturalized and if his viral video of bonehead plays haven’t dissuaded the coaching staff yet – and you have the group from which the team that will shoot for a slot in the World Championship will come from.
In a sense, Reyes’ task is a tad easier than that of Rajko Toroman, who handled the Olympics-hoping Ver. 1 of the Smart Gilas program, an all-amateur squad that, when the stakes were raised, eventually knocked on the PBA doors anyway.
Still, Reyes isn’t taking chances. Every name listed in the pool fitted into a description of the type of players the mercurial outgoing Talk ‘N Text mentor wants.
“We wanted best players who we felt could play well together and who could play my system,” said Reyes, who was given the task to shepherd the national team anew.
And the way things are shaping up, not only could there be no amateur in the roster, but members of the original Smart Gilas squad are unlikely to make it to 2.0.
“Talagang hindi kaya [with the old Gilas line-up]. That’s why the next best thing is to get the best players in the country,” Reyes told INQUIRER.net.
Easily, the 16-man roster named by Reyes has had a prominent casualty: JVee Casio, whose draft stock rose immensely as the star quarterback of the original Smart Gilas team, wasn’t named to the pool. Only his Powerade teammate, Marcio Lassiter, was recalled to the pool.
Hoping to take Casio’s place as the starting pointguard of the new Philippine team are Talk ‘N Text teammates Jimmy Alapag and Jason Castro, Alaska engine LA Tenorio and Petron playmaker Alex Cabagnot.
“It’s hard not to take the current PBA MVP. The point guards [we chose] are the ones who are performing the best,” said Reyes of his choices, which raised several howls because of Casio’s absence.
“Who will you take out? It’s tough,” Reyes said.
But he’ll live and die with it as he draws up a new blueprint featuring the country’s top pros.
Joining Lassiter at the wings is Gary David, the Powerade gunner who is currently shooting the lights out in the ongoing PBA season. Lassiter merited another chance to make the national team because of his ability to deliver on both ends of the floor.
“We like his combination of offense and his ability to shut down players. He’s a great defender,” Reyes said of Lassiter.
David was a no-brainer choice, given that “he is the best scorer in the league, how can we not get him.”
The men’s national team will also have familiar names – some have already suited up under Reyes in the past – like James Yap, Ranidel De Ocampo, Kelly Williams, Gabe Norwood, and Arwind Santos.
Reyes shrugged at the the deathless issue on lack of height of the line-up and faced the concern with a dose of reality – Filipinos will never be tall enough like the other competing nations.
“I know a lot of people are saying we lack height, but no matter who we put, we still won’t have enough height for the Asian teams,” said Reyes.
“We have very few 6-8 and above guys, and even if we do, it’s still going to be small.”
“My thinking was just to get the best talent, and speed, and athletic ability. We wanted height, but the main criteria was athletic ability,” said Reyes.
Talk N’ Text players Ryan Reyes and Larry Fonacier were also included in the pool, along with Marc Pingris of B-Meg, Enrico Villanueva of Barangay Ginebra and Sonny Thoss of Alaska.
“Thoss is the only center we have in the PBA who is not over 35 years old, same thing with Enrico. Look, we needed an extra center – Dorian Pena, Mick Pennisi, Asi Taulava, and Ali Peek, they’re all too old,” said Reyes.
“Enrico is the best potential at that spot and we needed bruiser – we were picking for specific needs. We’re not drafting Enrico to play a lot of minutes but for specific situations. We need a bruiser,” Reyes added.
The issue of time management, with their commitments to their mother teams in the PBA, would always be a pressing concern, but Reyes is leaving it up the Commissioner’s office to sort it out.
Reyes is hoping to start training on April 14. But before any scrimmages take place, they still need a signed commitment letter from the players who were invited to join the pool.
“If they sign it, it will formalize their entry to the pool,” said Reyes, who doesn’t see anyone turning down the opportunity to join the pool.
“Realistically no, hopefully no. I’m still a firm believer that it’s every player’s dream to be able to represent the country at any level,” Reyes said.