Beset by scheduling woes, Chot Reyes turns to eager PBA stars
Matthew Wright was supposed to go back to Canada and host a bachelor’s party right after the PBA Governors’ Cup.
But that will have to wait a little longer.
“I might put that on hold because of [the national team],” he told a couple of reporters on Friday night. “That’s the kind of sacrifices I’m willing to take just to don the Gilas Pilipinas jersey.”
Wright will report for the national pool for the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games and is a natural lock for one of 12 slots for the Vietnam event as Gilas Pilipinas ran to the PBA to circumvent a scheduling problem that padlocked the country’s top youngsters from the Philippine squad.
“We’d love to have Ange Kouame, Justine Baltazar, Carl Tamayo, Dave Ildefonso, all those guys in the list. But like I said, it’s not possible,” national coach Chot Reyes said late Friday night.
The young stars he mentioned would have been perfect for the SEA Games, a regional tournament with a relatively weak field that a PBA squad will easily rip apart. But those same stars will be neck deep in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball wars during the SEA Games.
“I’ve always said that we always look into the future. We wanted to have a lot more young players in the pool, except the SEA Games is going to overlap with the UAAP schedule, so that strikes out a lot of the players from our roster,” Reyes said.
That means Gilas Pilipinas will parade a supercharged roster in the SEA Games. And Wright has no doubt how their stint in Vietnam will end up.
“We are going for gold. [We’re taking] nothing less than gold,” he said.
The Phoenix gunner is more than eager to lead a squad that will include six-time Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo, athletic big Japeth Aguilar and hotshot guards Robert Bolick and Kevin Alas.
“It’s an opportunity to get another Gilas jersey. I love hearing the national anthem, where we line up and it plays. I get goosebumps right now just thinking about it,” said Wright.
Plus, it sets him up with another tour of duty under Reyes, whom he credits for giving him the opportunity to represent the country.
“I’m back with coach Chot, he’s the one who brought me in. As a rookie he gave me a lot of confidence,” the Filipino-Canadian with roots in Tarlac said. “He started me right away at the two [guard position]—with no experience whatsoever—over a lot of very good players. I owe a lot to coach Chot. I know he believes in me so I’m glad we’re reunited.”
Eyes on World Cup
Also in the pool for the biennial meet set to run from May 12 through 23 in Hanoi are Troy Rosario, Kib Montalbo and Poy Erram—all of whom returning for another round of national team duty after seeing action in the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) World Cup Asian Qualifiers here last month.
PBA talents who also made the list are Gilas draftee Will Navarro, a former one in Isaac Go and Mo Tautuaa, who is set to fill the naturalized spot.
Reyes will still have a chance to build on the national team’s future as he included in the pool Dwight Ramos and Thirdy Ravena—two youngsters plying their trade in Japan who emerged as the brightest spots in Gilas’ two recent contrasting campaigns against India and New Zealand.
The returning national coach also tossed in teenagers Caelum Harris and Francis Lopez, two teenagers whom Reyes said will be just as crucial for the cage program moves toward the Basketball World Cup here next year along with several tournaments beyond.
“The players in this lineup—they all have a chance of making the final lineup in 2023,” he said. “There’s not much we can do. In 2023, we really need PBA players there.”