Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) president Al Panlilio announced Friday the roster of Gilas Pilipinas for the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers set November 26 to 30 in Manama, Bahrain.
Rookie picks Allyn Bulanadi, Isaac Go, Matt and Mike Nieto and Rey Suerte lead the 16-man pool that will prepare for the tournament.
Joining them are collegiate stalwarts Kobe Paras, Calvin Oftana, Justin Baltazar, Kenmark Carino, Dave Ildefonso, Will Navarro, Jaydee Tungcab, Dwight Ramos, Gomez de Liano brothers Juan and Javi, and naturalization prospect Angelo Kouame – a member of Ateneo basketball squad – from Ivory Coast.
Panlilio said that the SBP already got clearance from Chief Implementer of the National Action Plan Against COVID-19 Secretary Carlito Galvez, Jr. and Deputy Chief Implementer Undersecretary Vince Dizon to participate in the tournament.
“The SBP already had a plan in place to form a team for the November window weeks ago but we had to make sure we did everything by the book because of the current situation,” said Panlilio.
“SBP Chairman Emeritus Manny V. Pangilinan, being part of the FIBA’s Central Board, has been adamant about our participation as FIBA restarts the Asia Cup Qualifiers to further strengthen our partnership with them and show that we’re completely behind them in this endeavor.”
“MVP’s guidance has been pivotal throughout this process and we’re happy to finally get the green light,” he added.
In a letter last October 19, the SBP asked for guidance the National Task Force Against COVID-19 (NTF), on behalf of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), about holding a “bubble” training and competing in Bahrain.
However, the NTF disapproved of the team’s participation since the Department of Foreign Affairs doesn’t allow Filipinos to travel to Bahrain due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a separate letter dated November 9, the SBP requested for reconsideration – citing the strict safety and medical protocols in place for the event including testing before departure and upon arrival in Bahrain.
The NTF reversed its earlier decision and gave its approval on the SBP request.
The team of project director Tab Baldwin together with Jong Uichico, Boyet Fernandez, Alton Lister, Sandro Soriano and Andrei Tolentino and will start training under a bubble arrangement at Inspire in Calamba, Laguna.
All players and coaches tested negative for COVID-19 as the pool is set to start their practice Saturday.
The team will face Thailand twice in Bahrain, Nov. 27 and Nov. 30. Gilas was supposed to play South Korea, but the Koreans have informed FIBA that they are not sending a team due to the pandemic.
The country is in Group A of the FIBA Asia qualifiers with a 1-0 card after beating Indonesia 100-70 last February 23 in Jakarta. Korea sports a 2-0 card, Thailand 0-1 and Indonesia 0-2.
The SBP has decided not to invite PBA players for this FIBA window even if some have expressed willingness to join – including Kiefer Ravena of NLEX – after they become available following their teams’ exit from the bubble.
Nevertheless, Panlilio – a member of the PBA board representing Meralco – said there’s no doubt that the PBA remains to be an important partner for the SBP and that the inclusion of PBA players in future rosters is still crucial to the success of the Gilas Pilipinas.
“The best talents are in the PBA and we’ll continue working closely with them but, for this window, we also have to take into consideration what the PBA players went through,” said Panlilio.
“They were apart from their families for at least six weeks and had to go through a grueling schedule. We know some of them are willing to play for flag and country and we appreciate them reaching out to us but it’s important that they give themselves time to recover physically and mentally.”
As for Kouame, Panlilio said that though his naturalization is not final yet, he was added to the pool to jumpstart the process of him getting to know the system and getting familiarized with Gilas teammates.