Asian Games

Challenges and choices: Gilas Pilipinas’ path to redemption in Asian Games

Naveen Ganglani

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Challenges and choices: Gilas Pilipinas’ path to redemption in Asian Games

STALWART. Gilas Pilipinas' June Mar Fajardo goes for a shot against China.


Barangay Ginebra coach Tim Cone and names of some foreign mentors have been floated to take over the Gilas Pilipinas head coaching duties in the Asian Games

MANILA, Philippines – The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) does not have much time to retool the Gilas Pilipinas men’s basketball program, with the Asian Games scheduled to tip off in Hangzhou, China, on September 23, just three weeks after their last game and lone win in the FIBA World Cup against China.

Gilas’ victory against the continental rival – spearheaded by the explosive performance of naturalized Filipino and NBA talent Jordan Clarkson – provided a temporary remedy for the governing body, although citizens in this basketball-crazy country still seek stability and victories after the team’s disappointing showing in the Manila-hosted World Cup.

Maligned head coach Chot Reyes has announced his strong desire to step down from national team duty, which leaves an opening in an important leadership position. As it currently stands, the Gilas ship destined for redemption does not have a captain to steer its course.

Reyes was listed as the head coach of the national team in an initial roster submitted by the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) for the Asian Games, but trusted sources have told Rappler that this is subject to change.

A joint press conference by the SBP and PBA is planned for Thursday, September 7, where the final roster and new head coach will presumably be announced.

Sources who spoke under the condition of anonymity told Rappler that the likely candidate to take over the spot is Barangay Ginebra head coach Tim Cone, who was one of Reyes’ assistant coaches.

Cone previously went on record to state that he does not aspire to become the head coach of Gilas, believing Reyes to be the right man for the job. However, sources feel he would be inclined to lead the national team with a roster made up of several of his players from Barangay Ginebra, and a staff that includes trusted longtime lieutenants in Richard del Rosario, Olsen Racela, and possibly LA Tenorio.

It also helps that Manny V. Pangilinan and Ramon Ang, patrons of the MVP and SMC groups, respectively, are on good terms.

Cone’s potential handling of the national team for the Asian Games would not necessarily mean a long-term commitment. 

Sources said that decision-makers in the SBP have their eye on Serbian-Kiwi basketball tactician Nenad Vučinić as a possible option to take over head coaching duties, given his wealth of knowledge about international play and his previous stint coaching the national team.

Vučinić is currently working with the MVP group as a consultant for Meralco in the PBA and is well-liked by Bolts players, who would be sad to see him depart.

Another name that’s been floated around as a possible candidate is Australia national team head coach Brian Goorjian if he becomes available following the disbandment of the Bay Area Dragons and the Aussies’ showing in the World Cup. 

Rappler reached out to the SBP media office but has yet to receive a response as of posting time.

As for the Gilas roster, having two possible naturalized players in Justin Brownlee and Angelo Kouame would be significant, but sources say it’s unclear yet if the latter will be available as he mulls his future.

Out of the other 10 remaining players included in the lineup sent by the POC – June Mar Fajardo, Scottie Thompson, Kiefer Ravena, Roger Pogoy, Japeth Aguilar, CJ Perez, Jamie Malonzo, Calvin Oftana, Chris Newsome, and Brandon Ganuelas-Rosser – Ravena is the only local who is signed to a team in the Japan B. League, and he is already back with his Japanese team. Malonzo’s availability remains a question due to the recent back injury he sustained.

While it’s unlikely that Clarkson, Dwight Ramos, AJ Edu, and Kai Sotto will play in the Asian Games, sources say the SBP is attempting to get World Cup standout Rhenz Abando in uniform by having discussions with his Korean Basketball League (KBL) team, Anyang KGC.

The Asian Games endeavor will be another financial commitment from the SBP, which, according to sources, agreed to a $2-million deal with Clarkson and $250,000 with Sotto for the duo to play in the World Cup. Those two standouts only made up a small part of the roster, not to mention logistics costs for training, travel, and other expenses.

While some might consider that it’s the price to pay to have high-caliber players for national squads, it is not always the case. Rappler learned through a source that Karl-Anthony Towns of the Dominican Republic, for example, put on his country’s uniform for no specific talent fee.

Where does the PBA fit into this? A good showing from a team laden with talents from the PBA in the Asian Games would give it some added credibility, particularly since most of the Gilas’ best-performing players in the World Cup – Clarkson, Ramos, Edu, Sotto, Abando, and Ravena – are standouts currently not playing in the league.

That would have been further highlighted if players such as Carl Tamayo, Matthew Wright, and Jordan Heading were available. –

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