The void left by Castro's Gilas retirement won't easily be filled

MANILA, Philippines – The Blur, the man who is one of the best point guards in Asia, has left. It is the biggest blow to Philippine basketball's hope of staying on its high Asian perch and no one appears close to filling in the shoes of Jayson Castro.  

No one has Castro's sense of when to energize the team. It can be a sudden drive to the basket, a pin-point pass to a shooter or the quick defensive rebound. Like the Philippines legendary point guards of the past, he has a bit of their skills: Tony Genato's speed, Jake Rojas' playmaking, Hector Calma's coolness, clutch shooting of Alfonso Marquez and the guts of Renato Reyes and Robert Jaworski.

Some of the best guards were adroit passers or tenacious defenders but Castro's shooting made him dangerous. 

In the 2015 FIBA Asia tournament, China paid Castro the ultimate compliment when they assigned their tall, younger guard to hound him as they knew Castro could change the flow of the game. Andray Blatche, a natural forward, needs someone like Castro to lead the offense.

Less than two years after the Philippine team missed Jimmy Alapag's all-court game, Castro's exit from the national team will be a gaping hole. Terrence Romeo is young and fearless and can shoot, but he will be the only one quick enough to face swifter guards. 

In his Instagram account jaywill_17, the 30-year-old spitfire announced his intentions to step aside for the next generation: "The end of our bid for a spot at the Rio Olympics will also be the end of my stint as a member of Gilas Pilipinas. For the past few years, it has been my honor to represent all of you but now it's time to hand over the responsibility to the younger generation."

The Olympic qualifying tournament marks a changing of the guards for the Philippine team. Ranidel de Ocampo, Castro's teammate at TNT, announced his retirement from international play a day earlier. Marc Pingris didn't see much action. Japeth Aguilar wasn't used. Taller and younger players will have to be tried. 

Calvin Abueva would have to get used to play off-guard in international games and even be the point guard when the Philippines battles taller teams. 

It has always been difficult to find guards. It takes time to replace the star sentinel or when he is injured. Not only are speed, guts and shooting required but the ability to lead the team on the court. Leaders take time to find and develop.

When Genato quit after 1957, several guards manned the point but none like him as the 5-foot-7 guard could defend against taller players. Reyes, who came up in 1963, was aggressive but raw. When the 5-foot-6 Rojas came up in 1966, here was someone who was a notch slower but whose passing and leadership were valued highly. Speedy Yoyong Martirez and clutch shooting Francis Arnaiz then assumed Rojas' role in the 1970s.

Calma's quiet leadership and the fact that he rarely made bad passes was the core of the Ron Jacobs-led national teams that won the Jones Cup and the 1985 ABC. 

In the rebuilding of the national team that will follow, one of the priorities will be to guide Romeo to take on a greater role on the floor, perhaps to hone Abueva to play the 1 or 2 spot and to find someone who can add some depth to the backcourt. This is perhaps hardest as the fortunes of any team hinge on the steadiness of its point guard.  

Does it mean that the Philippines will have to endure a few years to shore up its backcourt before setting its sights to qualify for the 2020 Olympics starting the FIBA 2017 cycle? The next few months will tell. –