With Lopez and Harris, Gilas Pilipinas begins rebuild of youth framework
MANILA, Philippines–Slowly, the youth movement is starting to grow at Gilas Pilipinas, a program that once hung in the balance after getting strafed by player departures and the resignation of its head coach and program director.
After adding Francis “LeBron” Lopez to the mix for the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) World Cup qualifying window pool, national coach Chot Reyes threw in a 16-year-old youngster who could play his way into the 2023 centerpiece tournament. Reyes, now also the main strategist of the Gilas Pilipinas program, said the addition of Caelum Harris was by no means a chance development.
“My mandate as a program director is to develop a vertically-integrated program,” Reyes told the Inquirer on Thursday. “[That’s from] youth to junior to men’s.”
“We are looking at Caelum and LeBron to lead the Under-18 segment,” he added.
According to Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Al Panlilio the presence of the two teens typifies the national federation’s commitment to creating a steady stream of fresh talents for the program.
“We will continue to search for Filipino talent not only locally, but internationally,” he told the Inquirer. “It’s always been our goal to create a pipeline of players for our program.”
Harris, an athletic 6-foot-7 forward has a shot at earning a spot in the pool for the World Cup, which the country will host next year with help from Japan and Indonesia.
For now, the qualifying window pool had to fall back on a tired, dated system after the national program was orphaned by several talents who opted to play abroad or signed with their Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) teams and was hit by the resignation of head coach and director Tab Baldwin.
“It’s really what we planned for, mainly the remnants of the Gilas pool reinforced with TNT players,” Reyes told reporters late Wednesday night.
“And the reason we did that is because, like I’ve said, we’re still playing now and we don’t know who’s going to go down with injury, that’s why we put [all those names], just in case,” he went on.
Reyes listed all his TNT charges except for Dave Marcelo and Mikey Williams in the pool, a throwback to the days when PBA players enforced the national team. Also added were NorthPort’s Robert Bolick and 2020 Gilas draftees Jaydee Tungcab, Tzaddy Rangel and Will Navarro. Mixed into that pool were stalwarts from the program that was supposed to culminate in the 2023 World Cup team: Dwight Ramos, Thirdy Ravena, naturalized big man Ange Kouame, Juan Gomez de Liaño and Lopez.
“Like I’ve said, we just have to make do with the hands that we’re dealt with,” said Reyes. “We’ll just continue working.”
Reyes and the pool have been neck-deep in preparations for this month’s window, which will feature two contests against rival South Korea, and one each versus India and New Zealand—all of which are set to be played at the Big Dome.
“It’s quite a grind,” he said.
The Philippines, as World Cup cohost, is already qualified for the event regardless of the results of the qualifying window, but the team intends perform at its best if only to rev up a stalled program.
Plus, fans will be allowed inside the venue, giving Gilas Pilipinas something to play for.
Tickets to the games were also made available to the public on Thursday, which heralds the first time fans can catch the Nationals in the flesh since the Southeast Asian Games was held in Pasay City.
Lower box tickets fetch for P500, while upper box seats are priced P200—exclusive of ticketing fees—and can be purchased through either TicketNet’s outlets or its website, www.ticketnet.com.ph.
Only fully-vaccinated individuals aged 12 or older can see the games live. Face mask, proof of inoculation, a government-issued ID and a Kyusi Pass registration will be required before entry.