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MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines will see action in the World Cup once more after the Gilas Pilipinas Boys finished fourth in the recent FIBA U16 Asian Championship in Doha, Qatar.
The young Filipinos shattered expectations, winning against South Korea in the knockout stage – a first for the Philippines in any FIBA-sanctioned youth tournament – and stunning a previously unbeaten Japan side in the quarterfinals to secure a berth in the world basketball competition in Turkey next year.
It was a welcome respite to what has been a tumultuous past months for the Gilas Pilipinas program, following the senior squad’s underwhelming FIBA World Cup performance and controversial buildup to the Asian Games.
Led by head coach Josh Reyes, the Filipino teens, undersized and all, proved their place in the Asian basketball landscape, with some snagging the spotlight on the big stage. Here are some who shone the brightest:
Kieffer Alas, son of renowned coach Louie Alas and brother of Gilas Pilipinas member Kevin Alas, emerged as the star in the youth squad’s run.
The 16-year-old standout of De La Salle Zobel was the team’s leading scorer, averaging 15.4 points throughout seven games.
Alas also led the Gilas Boys in rebounds with 8.6 boards and ranked second in assists with 2.6 dimes.
His best game came versus Japan, where he scored 29 points on 11-of-25 shooting, on top of 9 rebounds and 3 assists to spearhead the Gilas Boys’ World Cup qualification.
The 6-foot-2 guard was named to the tournament’s All-Star Five, together with New Zealand’s Oscar Goodman and Lachman Crate, Australia’s Henry Sewell, and China’s Boyuan Zhang.
A product of the University of Santo Tomas, Joaquin Ludovice provided the extra spark on the offensive end for the Gilas Boys.
Ludovice’s high-octane offense played an integral role in breaking down defenses and propelling the country to stunning wins in the tournament.
The 5-foot-9 guard’s best outing came against the Koreans, dropping 25 points on a hyper-efficient 7-of-12 shooting from the three-point line.
Ludovice normed 10.7 points on 33% from three, 2.3 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in seven games.
Kurt Nathan Velasquez
Kurt Nathan Velasquez was the stabilizing force that helped steady the boat for the Gilas Boys in the continental tilt.
The UST product scored double-digits in four of the seven games for the country. The 16-year-old averaged 8.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.3 assists, imposing his presence throughout the tournament.
At 5-foot-11, Velasquez was the team’s third-best scorer, but his playmaking was the underrated part of his game, dishing out 7 assists once in their win against Korea in the knockout stage.
Brother of another Gilas senior standout Mason Amos, Cletz David ‘CJ’ Amos posted 6.8 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 0.5 assists per game.
His best showing came in the opener against China, where the younger Amos dropped 13 points on 4 three-point makes and 4 rebounds.
Like his brother, CJ was a streaky shooter but struggled against bigger defenders, as he only made 5 of his 21 attempts from three.
But at 6-foot-1, few can deliver the skillset Amos provided for the Gilas Boys, and the Fil-Aussie teen will likely be among the team foundation heading into the Under-17 World tourney.
Aside from the four standouts, the Gilas Boys paraded solid pieces in 6-foot-4 Bonn Daja, 6-foot-4 Edryn Morales, and 6-foot-6 Paul Diao, who all played vital roles in manning the paint.
Rounding out the team were Irus Chua, Elijah Williams, Noah Banal, Sam Alegre, and Jaime Gomez de Liaño. – Rob Andrew L. Dongiapon/Rappler.com
Rob Andrew L. Dongiapon is a Rappler intern.