Matt Nieto and Dave Ildefonso will not suit up for Gilas Pilipinas in the third and final window of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers and the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) due to injuries.
Nieto suffered a broken hand, while Ildefonso sustained a deep bone bruise on his foot as they are both expected to be sidelined for the rest of June.
According to a press release from the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), Nieto initially thought he only needed to rest but realized the injury should be taken more seriously.
“[Losing Matt] created a great leadership void in the team and it’s very difficult to fill,” said national team program director Tab Baldwin.
“Matt is not just a vocal leader, he’s not just a tough guy, we really get a lot of our competitiveness as a team from him. He’s a fierce competitor who hates to lose and that’s contagious in a team environment.”
Nieto helped the Nationals win their first three games of the Asia Cup Qualifiers for the top spot in Group A with averages of 6 points, 4.7 assists, and 1.7 rebounds.
“We have other players who are competitive but they don’t have quite the drive and they don’t have the contagious nature that Matt has.”
Meanwhile, Ildefonso saw action in two games and normed 3.5 points.
“We miss both of them. We miss their talent and experience. We miss the fact that they give us chemistry with all the other players,” said Baldwin.
The Philippines will face South Korea twice and Indonesia once in the final window of the Asia Cup Qualifiers, which will be hosted by the SBP in Clark, Pampanga from June 16 to 20.
After that, Gilas Pilipinas will fly to Serbia for the OQT, which will run from June 29 to July 4.
Despite the absences of Nieto and Ildefonso, Baldwin sees a silver lining.
“In today’s world, after these guys sat out much of 2020 and didn’t get a lot of basketball, we’re pretty fortunate we didn’t get more injuries. Knock on wood there wouldn’t be any more.”
With Nieto and Ildefonso out, Baldwin expects RJ Abarrientos and SJ Belangel to take on a leadership role for the team.
“SJ and RJ are both grooming themselves. They’ve both accepted the role of being leaders,” Baldwin said.
“With Dwight Ramos, it’s still a wish for us. He still has a personality that isn’t vocally oriented and it’s got to change. It’s a drum we’ve been beating, he’s changing slowly so it is what it is.” – Rappler.com