Forfeiture win, rout of India kick off dawn of rebooted Gilas program
As officials of the national basketball federation began plotting the core for the future, the guys in the current Gilas Pilipinas squad gave a good account of themselves Friday night.
The Philippines trounced India, 88-64, in a Fiba (International Basketball Federation) World Cup Asian Qualifiers window at Smart Araneta Coliseum even as officials of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) began exploring the possibility of putting the likes of Kai Sotto and National Basketball Association (NBA) star Jordan Clarkson together for the centerpiece 2023 tournament.
“I think [Clarkson has] always sent feelers that he’s willing to play again for Gilas,” SBP president Al Panlilio told reporters during a media scrum on Thursday.
“Kai Sotto is also wanting to play for the national team,” he went on. “We have to respect the calendars and respect their commitments. So we’ll see how we can build those teams together in windows of competitions.”
The Philippines gained automatic qualification to the World Cup as the main cohost of the event and the SBP is hoping to assemble a young but competitive squad for the tournament that it can also build its future on.
The present team, after all, still needs a patch-up squad that needs major overhaul. Against a program that is still in its birthing stages, however, this Gilas Pilipinas proved adequate after a shaky start.
“We talked about taking our first step as a team, being this is our very first game together as a unit. So you know, we expected we’d struggle a bit due to unfamiliarity,” national coach Chot Reyes said after the game.
“Overall, I was pleased with the effort. Everyone was pitching in, everyone doing his role,” he added.
The Filipinos took a 68-47 lead heading into the fourth quarter after Thirdy Ravena found Kib Montalbo for a three-pointer to highlight a 22-8 run that took the fight out of India.
Dwight Ramos had 17 points, four rebounds and three assists to lead the Philippines even as he admitted before the game that the current window was an unfortunately scaled-down version of the tournament he was eyeing.
“I was really looking forward to [the window]. I never really got a chance to play in front of a [home] crowd. This is my first time playing here in Araneta and I was really excited to play against Korea,” he said.
Korea was a late scrub for the window after COVID-19 infections struck the team, forcing it to cancel its flight to Manila. Fiba has since declared Korea’s two scheduled games in the window against the Philippines forfeited, starting with what should have been Gilas Pilipinas’ opener last Thursday.
Gilas Pilipinas thus sports a 2-0 record officially. New Zealand, which also routed India earlier, is at 1-0. India dropped to 0-2.
The Philippines and New Zealand clash on Sunday.
“With the games being reduced to only two games, it makes every game more important,” Ramos said. “We have to make sure that we put up a good fight and try to get wins in both of those games.”
Ravena added 15 points for Gilas Pilipinas while Roger Pogoy and Robert Bolick also finished in double digits with 12 and 10 points, respectively.
Sahaij Pratap Singh Sekhon led India with 14 points while Prashant Singh Rawat added 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Panlilio said the SBP’s next task is to get Clarkson, the Utah Jazz standout named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year last season, to play as a local.
“It’s not an issue only in the Philippines, it’s really a Fiba policy,” said Panlilio. “They’re trying to find a rule that can apply to all countries part of Fiba and that’s something that hopefully we can work on. It’s a wish for us to identify him as Filipino because he’s Filipino.”