The Gilas cadets currently playing in the Jones Cup are still trying to gain ground in the international stage. Expect only a handful of them to even be in the consideration to make the final lineup for the FIBA Asia Cup, which will tip off on August 8 in Lebanon.
Because the stakes are higher in the upcoming tournament—as it’s outcome will be a determining factor in the joint FIBA Asia and Oceania qualifier for 2019 Basketball World Cup—coach Chot Reyes will definitely pluck more veterans from his 24-man pool to form a stronger and much more seasoned squad.
With the way some of the Gilas boys have been performing in the ongoing tournament, however, we believe these young guns have already earned a right to suit up for Team Philippines’ FIBA Asia Cup bid. Will they get the nod?
Everybody knows how important three-point shooting is in basketball today. And no one has provided Gilas that essential element in the past few days better than Matthew Wright. Except in the opening game against the very tough and towering crew of Canada 150, Team Philippines’ 26-year-old sniper has been scorching the nets in Taiwan. He’s become one of Gilas’ most dependable scoring options and the space that his long-ball proficiency creates during offensive sets has been a boon for Gilas’ inside operators. His torching of Chinese Taipei’s Team A and Team B—a combined total of 38 markers—is just a small indication of how much firepower he’s got. It’ll be unfathomable if Gilas will leave a shooter of Matthew Wright’s caliber behind, heading to their next assignment.
Kiefer Ravena is showing up in the Jones Cup. His timely baskets and stunning drives to the hoop over and around his defenders accentuate The Phenom's readiness for a regular role in the Gilas program. He gives his team scoring versatility at the one-position. Wouldn’t it be great if Coach Chot would officially tap him to be Jayson Castro’s back-up? With the move, not only will Gilas gain a solid sixth man, it will also sharpen Ravena's mastery at manning the point, and, perhaps, fast-track his ascension as Kuya Jayson heir apparent. When that time comes, we’re sure the former King Eagle will be fully equipped to lead Gilas as they tackle the bigger, much more crucial games ahead. We really don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be included in Gilas’ campaigns from here on out.
The brazen PBA rookie is one of Gilas’ better two-way players. That’s why he’s always makes his presence felt whenever he’s on the floor. His competitiveness is also a plus. He’s unafraid to make winning plays, launch a clutch three, guard an ace player, or dive for a loose bal. Count on RR to give to fully embrace the task at hand. You can see it from every bit of his movement, from the way he intentionally commits fouls to prevent a layup to the way he hoists up a shot. He's that decisive. That's someone who's built to play for the national team.
Going up against the taller teams is Asia, Gilas definitely needs another big bad bruiser other than June Mar Fajardo. So far, 6’8” Fil-German Christian Standhardinger’s play suggests he’s the man for the job. Rummaging through the paint with reckless abandon, reminiscent of Anderson Varejao during his heyday with the Cavs, Standhardinger has made believers out of Gilas fans and respected basketball analysts who rave about his rebounding prowess. Christian is no slouch either when putting the ball through the hoop. Give him the rock when he’s in the shaded lane and he’ll get you a bucket more often than not. The big problem we have with this guy is he didn’t secure a Philippine passport before he turned 16, which means he can only be with Gilas as a naturalized player. It’ll be very hard to pick him over Andray Blatche as the latter’s offensive skillset still holds a lot of weight at this point.
At times, it looks like Gilas could really use Jalalon in the Lebanon games. His tenacious defense, evident in his lightning-quick pickpocket jobs in the Jones Cup, seems to be a terrific trump card for Team Philippines. There are also times, however, when Jio clearly struggled against the tournament's heftier guards. He may need more time and seasoning to adjust to this. Don’t get mad, Jalalon fans, a couple more international tune-up tourneys under his belt and Jio will leave the Gilas headmasters no choice but to call his number almost all the time.
If he were in perfect condition, Mac Belo would’ve been a lock to join Gilas in Lebanon. But watching him play in the Jones Cup, it’s obvious he’s still trying to get his legs under him, coming off a knee injury. His value as an end-to-end player and rebounder, though, may prove to be too much to completely write him off. Booking him a ticket to the FIBA Asia Cup will probably depend on Belo’s progress between now and August 8.
Carl Bryan Cruz
Cruz is holding his ground against the monolithic 4s and 5s, playing in the Jones Cup. He rarely makes mistakes, he’s knocking down three-pointers and he doesn’t seem to be a defensive liability despite being an undersized forward. With his commendable basketball IQ and ability to nail it from deep, we won’t be totally surprised if he makes the final cut.