On solid ground
Gilas Pilipinas raised some concerns—and eyebrows—yebrows when it decided to send five amateurs to reinforce its pros for the first window of the Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers.
After a thorough whipping of the enemy on their home floor in Jakarta, 100-70, it seemed that coaching staff and the powers-that-be in determining the composition of the team, didn’t take a gamble at all.
If they did, it was a really calculated one.
Just when the Nationals were struggling, Thirdy Ravena—who shunned a chance to turn pro and become the No. 1 pick in the Draft—spearheaded a torrid breakaway in the third period that made it look like it was a walk in the park for the Filipinos. He wound up with team-bests of 23 points, eight boards and two blocks.
And coach Mark Dickel was just one proud man.
“The PBA players were great with their leadership,” Dickel told the Inquirer in a text message as soon as the team landed in Manila. “[But] the younger, newer players stepped up to a good level that allowed us to play everyone with quality minutes.”
Ravena insisted that it was more than a one-man show, pointing to the key contributions made by Juan Gomez de Liaño, Dwight Ramos, and Matt Nieto.
“I think we played really well given that it’s our first national team stint,” Ravena told the Inquirer in a separate message.
“(Juan and Dwight) had a couple of tough baskets that boosted our morale,” added Ravena. “Matt provided a lot of intangibles, especially the way he managed the team whenever we were without my brother (Kiefer).”
Gomez De Liaño accounted for 10 points in just 11 minutes of action to join the three pros—Roger Pogoy, CJ Perez, and the older Ravena—in tallying double-digit scores.
Ramos, who has yet to play in a UAAP game for Ateneo, chipped in five points, five rebounds and a pair of steals.
Nieto, meanwhile, proved to be a great facilitator with six assists.
The Philippines brandished such a promising crew that it left its former mentor, Indonesia coach Rajko Toroman, shaking his head in the postgame interview.
“This team, the Philippines, they are better than us,” he said. “They are very, very talented.”
“We were competitive for three quarters, but I think quality, talent, and athletic [capabilities are] on their side,” added Toroman.
Such performances not only validated Dickel and program director Tab Baldwin’s early proclamations that the amateurs will serve as building blocks for Gilas’ campaign in the 2023 Basketball World Cup here.
In fact, it has given the program an idea on how to chart the future.
“The desired style of play is one that naturally fits the Filipinos’ skillset: Pressure defense paired with patient offense with an emphasis on outside shooting,” said Dickel.
“This should mean a lot for the program because we’ve made a commitment on having a true style of play,” he added.
Ravena, if anything, believes such an approach is the way to go.
“While we also need to work on ourselves, we also need to work together as a core group,” he said. “We have to make sure we’re tight as a core.” “We have to be systemic because that’s how we will win games leading up to 2023.” INQ