A day after Gilas Pilipinas broke camp and never got to play a single game after working so hard for close to a month in a bio-secure facility, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) president Al Panlilio reiterated that none of the resources and the efforts of everyone in the Calamba bubble went to waste.
“All of it formed parts of our development program for [the] 2023 [Fiba World Cup],” Panlilio told the Inquirer over the phone. “We’re on the right path.”
There were a total of 37 people made up of players, coaching staff and utility personnel who entered the bubble, and Panlilio met all of them at the same time via Zoom on Friday night, thanking them for their efforts that had Gilas Pilipinas program director Tab Baldwin saying “they’re the best group of people I have worked with.”
That pool was supposed to play the third window of the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) Asia Cup Qualifying, which was called off twice—the first in Clark, Pampanga province and then the second over the weekend, on the eve of the team’s departure for Doha, Qatar.
“There’s nothing we can do about that anymore because the global health crisis is dictating that,” Panlilio said. “Still, it wasn’t a waste. We gained a lot with the [training] camp.”
Kai Sotto flew back to the United States on Sunday to rejoin his Ignite team in the G League, and the mere fact that he came over to answer the national call has given the SBP leadership more or less an idea of how that 2023 World Cup team—and the Gilas sides that will precede it—will look like.
“Potentially, we can have the tallest Philippine Team ever assembled, with Kai, June Mar (Fajardo), AJ Edu and (Ange) Kouame,” Panlilio said. “This will be the first time that we will have two seven-footers and we have the talent on the other positions.”
Sotto is a 7-foot-3 18-year-old, while Kouame is a seven-footer who still has playing years left with Ateneo in the UAAP where he can continue to become a better all-around player, which the country will need in international competitions.
Panlilio also said the second postponement could be a blessing in disguise for Gilas as the SBP is “working double time” to have the naturalization papers of Kouame completed.
“We would like to have him play internationally as early as we could to gain experience,” Panlilio said. “So there was something good [in the second postponement] as far as Kouame is concerned.”
Kouame, incidentally, was in the Calamba bubble from Jan. 19 until Friday, turning in his time no other naturalized player before him has done for the National team.
“Everybody worked hard and I am very grateful for their commitment and sacrifice,” the SBP boss continued. “That’s a good sign for our national program because we have players that really want to represent the country.”
Philippine National teams in the past have always been labeled to be as talented as any other team in the world, but lacked the ceiling to be a factor.
Sotto and Kouame can be called upon as the Philippines tries to reclaim Asian dominance first before Gilas makes sure that it will not just provide token opposition to anyone when the country cohosts the World Cup in 2023.
And that sounds as truly promising and exciting for this cage-crazy nation. INQ
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