SBP thrust into busy reassembling of Gilas Pilipinas program
MANILA, Philippines–Dwight Ramos arrived in the country Friday evening to backstop the national team that will compete in the February window of the 2023 Fiba (International Basketball Federation) Asia Cup Qualifiers, even as the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) has began undertaking serious moves to ensure that its prized young talents will be available for the World Cup.
After a night’s rest, Ramos will shuttle to Batangas province on Saturday to join national coach Chot Reyes and the TNT Tropang Giga—whose core will serve as ballast for the national team to the qualifying window—along with other young pool members like naturalized big man Ange Kouame, playmaker Juan Gomez de Liaño, Tzaddy Rangel, William Navarro and Jaydee Tungcab.
A source told the Inquirer that the SBP has been in constant communication with its young talents playing overseas and several have reaffirmed their commitment to represent the country in the 2023 World Cup which will be held here and in Japan and Indonesia.
But for the February window, SBP president Al Panlilio said during a press briefing on Friday: “It’s who is available for this window. Beyond [this one], I think we will still have to talk about it with Chot.”
What several sources have told the Inquirer, however, is that the SBP is working double time to recommit several key youngsters to the national team. PBA sources confirmed that much, saying even those released from their Gilas Pilipinas contracts to join their mother teams in the pro league have an understanding that they will be available for national team duty when needed.
The SBP did not address the development, but Panlilio said the SBP is making sure that it will not be caught flatfooted when the time comes to assemble Gilas Pilipinas.
“We don’t want to be in this position by the end of the year, before August next year [where] we have an exodus of players, and we don’t know [who will be available for] the lineup,” Panlilio said. “That has been quite painful, to be honest. We ought to make sure that doesn’t happen [again].”
“It is our wish that we can know early enough which will be the core of our team in the 2023 World Cup, so we can actually go ahead and train them,” said Ricky Vargas, who chairs the PBA and represents TNT in the league board.
Ray of hope
Among key players still plying their trade abroad are 7-foot-2 center Kai Sotto, who is in Australia, and Japan B.League standouts Thirdy Ravena, Ray Parks and Kobe Paras.
For now, the SBP is focused on the coming window, which will be played starting Feb. 24 at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
And to that end—and for other vital reasons—Ramos’ arrival is being seen as a ray of hope.
“Dwight coming back is a good sign. [Players] are now beginning to realize that not all is nice playing overseas,” said Vargas.
“I think if we continue to allow our basketball to be played in the Philippines, and we start to [re]open our economy, there’s a great chance that we will get people back, and invite more to play in the PBA. We are very positive about it,” he added.
The PBA has began looking in ways it can lure players back to the league after a year where several young standouts opted to take their talents overseas.
That exodus hit the national pool hard. The national cage program was reduced to a skeleton crew after the Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers in Clark Freeport and the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments in Serbia because of the talent drain.
Further intensifying the scramble to rebuild the national program was Tab Baldwin’s decision to step down from both his posts as coach and program director, a move that has been steeped in mystery and speculation, none of which are expected to tone down after Friday’s presser.
Vargas and Panlilio addressed allegations that Baldwin had a hand in sending top-flight prospects overseas, which has led to his easing down from the Gilas saddle.
“To be honest, I’ve been hearing about that but there’s really no proof,” Vargas said. “There’s a lot of talk going around and a lot of rumors and a lot of speculations because of his connections with agents and former agents and friends and players saying they’ve been approached and all that. But there are no [hard] facts. There’s no real proof. It’s just all smoke.”
Where there’s smoke . . .
Interestingly, however, Panlilio did note that although those allegations would be very hard to prove, “[where] there’s smoke, there’s fire, right? The saying goes like that.”
“People talk who are not directly involved and mentioned it to me and I just don’t really mind it. But it’s there. You hear about it. We actually don’t know,” Panlilio added.
Baldwin could not be reached for comment, but a statement that accompanied his stepping down cited his role as Ateneo coach as the main reason for his decision.
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