MANILA, Philippines – Francis “LeBron” Lopez and Gab Banal failed to make the cut as the plan to field everyone from Gilas Pilipinas’ 15-man pool got derailed after South Korea pulled out from the Philippines’ hosting of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.
National team head coach Chot Reyes initially wanted to play all 15 players for the February window, but their original four-game schedule got reduced to just two matches as Korea withdrew due to a positive COVID-19 test.
Explaining his roster choice, Reyes said he tapped Banal for the sole purpose of being a backup for TNT teammate Roger Pogoy, who just recovered from a calf injury.
“In case Roger could not go, Gab was a backup. And that was made very clear to him when we included him in the 15-man lineup,” Reyes said.
Pogoy saw action in both games, averaging 8 points and 3 rebounds in 16 minutes of action.
It was a different case for Lopez, the youngest player in the team at 18 years old.
While Lopez managed to debut for the national team in the Asia Cup Qualifiers last year when Tab Baldwin still held the coaching reins, Reyes said the high-flying teenager fell behind in learning the system after he joined the squad only less than two weeks before the Asian Qualifiers.
“He is very far from the scheme of things yet. He is still very far from understanding our offense, our defense, and that was the reason for those decisions,” Reyes said.
Reyes, though, assured Lopez that he remains part of Gilas’ plans.
“But in the future, like I told LeBron, he is going to get more chances with this team, but he has to be more present. He has to be in the training camps, the practices, like all these other guys.”
Sitting at second place in Group A with a 1-1 record, Gilas will return to Asian Qualifiers action in the June-July window. – Rappler.com