MANILA, Philippines – Deep. Versatile. Skilled. Short. Old.
Smart Gilas national men’s basketball team coach Chot Reyes made known Tuesday, March 27, his Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) wishlist — 16 players who the multi-titled tactician believes will carry the country into the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
And while a cadet squad — composed of amateur and collegiate standouts — has yet to be formed and that the PBA pool is by no means final pending their mother teams’ approval, let us look at the first wave of national cagers who will hopefully don the tri-stars and bring back the Philippines to international hoops glory.
POINT GUARDS: A-
(Jimmy Alapag, LA Tenorio, Alex Cabagnot, Ryan Reyes, Jason Castro)
Average age: 28.6 years old
Average height: 5’11”
Gilas 2 poses a very deep point-guard rotation with all five court generals armed with a knack for making big plays and the guts to take — and make — big shots.
Alapag probably gets the nod to start here, owing to his international experience and being the reigning PBA Most Valuable Player himself. And the “Mighty Mouse” will not disappoint, showing in the past that he can shine in the Asian stage like when he normed 16.0 points per game in the 2007 FIBA-Asia Championships.
Tenorio and Cabagnot, the two most dangerous and efficient playmakers in the league today, are solid choices, too.
Both have proven their ability in the clutch and have been steady in steering their respective squads, posting fantastic all-around numbers (Tenorio: 13.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.3 steals; Cabagnot: 16.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.0 steal) while shooting efficiently. What more can you ask for?
Reyes and Castro can play both point and shooting guards but would be vastly undersized as 2s in international play, especially the latter, who stands a generous 5’11.”
The two are capable of hitting the three and are both energy guys who could ignite rallies in a snap. Reyes and Castro would definitely come off the bench to provide spark and additional scoring punch when the starters take a breather.
However, one of the last two slots could have been handed to Powerade’s JV Casio, who successfully handled playmaking duties for the first inception of Smart Gilas. Casio is a very good ball distributor (6.1 assists in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championships) who has more international experience than any point guard in this pool aside from Jimmy Alapag.
Rain or Shine’s Paul Lee and B-Meg’s Mark Barroca are young guns who have the potential to make it big while Willie Miller and Mike Cortez are old hands who can probably still get it done in international tilts but would merit serious consideration only if any of the aforementioned players gets injured.
(Gary David, Marcio Lassiter, James Yap, Gabe Norwood, Larry Fonacier)
Average age: 28.6 years old
Average height: 6’3”
Scoring for Gilas 2 will most probably come from the wings, what with scoring machines in David, Yap and Lassiter ready to deliver telling blows for Team Pilipinas.
We will go for a David-Lassiter combo to start here, their chemistry as Powerade teammates being an important factor when it comes to starting strong.
David (25.8 points) is unarguably the most potent scoring guard in the country today and he doesn’t just throw shots, he is an efficient shooter who drains 47% of his field goals, 37% of his three-pointers and 85% of his foul shots.
On the other hand, Lassiter is a monster of a two-way player, excelling on both offense and defense and astoundingly efficient even with limited playing time. In 26.3 minutes in the PBA Philippine Cup, the 24-year-old averaged 16.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.4 steals while shooting 36.1% from beyond the arc.
Lassiter would probably play 25 minutes in international competitions and expect his Swiss-like efficiency to be there game in and game out.
Of course, Yap is not one to be forgotten. The two-time PBA MVP has had a renaissance of sorts under coach Tim Cone, norming 19.6 points per game last season for B-Meg. He is a deadeye shooter who can explode anytime, as he did when he torched Chinese-Taipei with six triples in the FIBA-Asia Championships in 2009.
Norwood, meanwhile, provides playmaking skills, stout defense and rebounding. He is by no means an offensive force but would bring stability, maturity and most importantly, height at the wing position.
Fonacier would probably be called upon when the going gets tough as he can deliver points in bunches and is a steady free-throw shooter.
However, spots for Norwood could have gone better to Petron’s Chris Lutz and Alaska’s Mac Baracael, two cagers who shone bright for Smart Gilas the past three years.
The duo are defensive stalwarts who are also capable of hitting three-pointers to spread the floor. Plus, both are bigger and stronger than Fonacier and would help bulk up a national team that is always short on the area.
BIG MEN: B-
(Enrico Villanueva, Arwind Santos, Sonny Thoss, Kelly Williams, Marc Pingris, Ranidel de Ocampo)
Average age: 30.2 years old
Average height: 6’5 ½”
Let me get this out: the choice of Enrico Villanueva is the most baffling pick here. The former UAAP MVP is way past his prime and as a matter of fact, has been posting career-low numbers the past two seasons.
He is slow, looks unmotivated and is mostly remembered in international play for dragging Lebanon’s Stephen Howard across the floor in the Asian Club Championships in 2005.
Otherwise, it is a solid collection of big men led by defensive ace Arwind Santos and 6’7” pivot man Sonny Thoss. The duo anchors a Gilas 2 frontline that may be wanting in height but will fight with grit and talent.
Santos is a gangling forward with an otherworldly ability to grab rebounds and swat shots. His impact, though, is limited by his inexplicable penchant for throwing bricks from rainbow territory.
Last season, Santos attempted almost five treys per game, making only 1.3 for a vicious 23% clip. He can post up and would probably utilize those skills to the hilt with Alapag, David and Lassiter spreading the floor.
Meanwhile, Thoss is as steady as a PBA center could get. He is not a dominant offensive force (11.6 points) but can pull down boards (10.0 rebounds) and block shots (1.2 blocks).
Thoss gets limited touches on offense and takes full advantage of those, a career 50% field goal shooter who will be the perfect backup to naturalized center Marcus Douthit.
Williams is not the swashbuckling, rim-rattling MVP of old, being slowed down by age and the ill-effects of his battle with thrombocytopenia three years back. He is now focused on defense and rebounding while also sinking the occasional trey.
Then again, it’s not impossible for Williams to shut the world up like he did in 2008 (28.2 points, 10.7 rebounds) en route to the MVP award.
Working like there’s no tomorrow, Pingris is the epitome of energy and hustle and is a solid backup four who will score (9.8 points) and rebound (9.4 rebounds) efficiently. De Ocampo, on the other hand, doesn’t board well (4.9 rebounds for a 6’5” forward) but is a 40% three-point shooter.
I’d gladly take 39-year-old Asi Taulava over Villanueva anytime but the former has retired from international duty and a dearth of talented forward-centers might have forced Reyes to pick the former Ateneo star.
However, I will still choose Kerby Raymundo, Joe Devance and even the maddeningly inconsistent Japeth Aguilar rather than roll the dice on Villanueva. – Rappler.com
Josiah Israel Albelda is a 23 year-old teacher, sports journalist, graphic designer and entrepreneur. He works his tail off 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, loves the thrill of taking on challenges and plans to retire at the age of 30. The opinions expressed in this article are his own.