Philippine basketball

On hero ball and wish lists: Lessons learned from Gilas past

Ariel Ian Clarito

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On hero ball and wish lists: Lessons learned from Gilas past

FAN FAVORITE. Jordan Clarkson and Gilas Pilipinas acknowledge the crowd after a game in the 2023 FIBA World Cup,


Tim Cone, being the astute and grizzled tactician that he is, may have already studied his Gilas Pilipinas history, but here are some lessons that may still serve the champion coach in good stead

MANILA, Philippines – 2024 signaled a fresh start for the Gilas Pilipinas program. Although the coach and the players are not totally new, the program is, and it ushers in a new system, environment, and end objective. 

In what is another reboot to Gilas Pilipinas, Tim Cone was appointed permanent national team head coach, and he subsequently named just 12 players who will form the core of the national team. 

The idea is to keep the 12 together for the next four years, with the hope of qualifying and advancing deep in the 2027 FIBA World Cup. 

Although Cone left a window for additions in case of injuries to the core, he also emphasized that for the most part, he will stick with the 12 in the tournaments that Gilas Pilipinas will be joining, beginning with the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers this February.

There have been skepticism about the rationale in sticking to just 12 players and questions about why certain players were not included. 

Names such as Rhenz Abando, Justine Baltazar, and Jordan Heading have been frequently mentioned. Other notable omissions are Thirdy Ravena, who has been on a tear in the Japan B. League, leading his club, the San-En NeoPhoenix, to the top of the standings, and Matthew Wright, hands down the best Filipino player in Japan the past two seasons. 

Angelo Kouame has been a force for the UB Chartres Métropole in the French League Division 3 and should have been a worthy consideration for the lone naturalized player spot that has been allotted to the recently reinstated Justin Brownlee.

But it is hard to argue with the wisdom of a coach who is largely considered the best in the local shores and who has already proven he could also triumph in the international arena. 

One can only hope that this latest iteration of Gilas Pilipinas will be run and supported by people who will have the patience, the thoroughness and the discipline to stick to the program and allow it to run its course as designed by Cone and his brain trust. 

There were a number of circumstances in the previous versions of Gilas that should not plague Cone’s program for it to be successful. 

Cone, being the astute and grizzled tactician that he is, may have probably already studied his Gilas history to know the things that worked and things that could have been done better. 

Player access in coach’s wish list

An early positive sign for Tim Cone is that he seemed to have filled up his 12-man roster with the players on his wish list. This was rarely the case for previous Gilas programs.

Tab Baldwin had his hands tied behind his back when he was deputized in 2015 to helm the Gilas team that was vying to win the solitary Asian ticket to the 2016 Rio Olympics. 

Baldwin was deprived of the opportunity to tap any of the players from the San Miguel teams. 

Marc Pingris eventually joined the national team and once again took on the role of the defensive anchor of the team, the only one from the SMC bloc who chose country over club. 

Credit goes to Baldwin who, despite the lack of materials, still steered Gilas to a runner-up finish in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship, just a game short of earning an Olympic spot

The 2013 Gilas had its own share of limitations as Chot Reyes was only allowed to pick one player per PBA team based on the parameters set by the pro league for the national squad.

Finite shelf life of Gilas program

Since 2008, there have been close to 10 versions of Gilas Pilipinas that have been assembled. None of these teams stayed together for four years. 

The longest a squad stayed together was Gilas 1.0, which was formed in 2008 under coach Rajko Toroman with the aim of qualifying for the London Olympics by winning the 2011 FIBA Asia Olympic qualifiers held in Wuhan, China. 

But the team that was fielded in the qualifiers was not composed exclusively of those who were part of the Toroman pool. 

PBA players Asi Taulava, Kelly Williams, Ranidel de Ocampo, and Jimmy Alapag were inserted months before the qualifiers, practically relegating to the sidelines the three-year preparation that was intended to make the players one cohesive unit. 

Gilas 2.0 under Reyes ran from the time they won the SEABA and the Jones Cup in 2012 to the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.

Baldwin’s Gilas 3.0 had an even shorter life span, lasting from 2015 to 2016. 

Since then, there have been nine coaches who have been given the head coaching mantle of Gilas, with Reyes the longest tenured, handling the program two more times, from 2016-2018 and from 2022-2023. 

Cone himself was appointed Gilas coach twice, the 2019 Southeast Asian Games and the 2023 Asian Games. Both instances, Gilas brought home the gold. 

If Cone manages to maintain his program until 2027, he would become the longest-serving national team coach in the last 70-plus years. 

Short preparation time

The age-old dilemma of the Gilas program has been the PBA’s unwillingness to make a radical change in its calendar to allow the national team more time to prepare.

The PBA can mount press conferences all day long, mouth platitudes declaring its full commitment to the Gilas program and publicly declare plans to adjust league schedules to give the national team more time to prepare. At this point, everyone knows these are all lip service.

The Gilas team under coach Yeng Guiao was given just 10 full days of training to prepare for the 2019 FIBA World Cup

That team lost its first two games by an average deficit of 52 points. 

Cone recognizes the hand he has been dealt with. 

“We are trying to minimize the amount of preparation that we need to get into each window,” Cone said. “We are going to prepare for only seven days for the first window [of the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers], 10 days for the second, and five days for the third.”

Cone hopes that by not having a revolving-door policy in the national pool, the 12 players selected will eventually establish chemistry which will cover up for the short preparation time they will be given by the PBA. 

Team play over hero ball

In the closing minutes of the game between Gilas Pilipinas and the Dominican Republic during the opening playdate of the 2023 FIBA World Cup, the Dominicans scored on well-run plays while the Filipinos failed to convert from their isolations and forced attempts. The visitors escaped with a close 87-81 victory

In Brownlee, Cone will have a clutch player who can take over a game but still play within the system. 

The resident Ginebra import, in fact, has always been known for his willingness to blend with teammates. To describe him as perfect for the kind of national team Cone envisions would be stating the obvious. Brownlee has an Asian Games gold medal as proof of that.

In the past two editions of the FIBA World Cup, the Gilas teams played with an over-reliance on their go-to stars, Andray Blatche in 2019 and Jordan Clarkson in 2023. 

It was similar to a boxer telegraphing his attack, and the Gilas squads wound up getting read like alphabet by opposing teams. Both squads operated within systems that were predictable and seemed out of touch with the dynamics and nuances of the international game. 

Cone displayed both imagination and guile when he led the Philippines to its first Asian Games gold medal in 61 years, without totally veering away from his magic that has always worked in the PBA. He wins more than he talks and is not known to invite drama nor call attention to himself. 

But Cone has not been tested in FIBA-level events and in competitions outside of the Asian region. Whether his formula for the new Gilas program will work will be known in the coming months. –

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