Gilas Pilipinas mentor Jong Uichico expects a tough campaign for the all-amateur national team when it competes in the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers set Nov. 26 to 30 in Manama, Bahrain.
With only three weeks to gear up for the tournament, chemistry is another issue the squad is facing since they come from various backgrounds playing for different schools.
“We’re cramming, trying to put things which we hope the players would absorb before we start playing in the qualifiers,” said Uichico, who was appointed as head coach of the national team by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), in an interview Saturday.
The national team leaves Sunday for Bahrain, which will host the tournament in a bubble setup similar to the NBA and the PBA due to health reasons for the safety of players and officials from COVID-19.
SBP President Al Panlilio announced the 16-man training pool for the event, but Uichico said the coaching staff has yet to finalize the players they’ll bring in Bahrain to play for Gilas Pilipinas.
What is certain, however, is the status of Angelo Kouame of Ivory Coast as his naturalization papers have not been finalized in time for the tournament. Uichico said that another ineligible player is Fil-Am Dwight Ramos.
Also, gunner Allyn Bulanadi is not joining the team due to an injury.
That leaves the team with 13 players, led by PBA rookie draftees early this year, namely Isaac Go, Matt and Mike Nieto, and Rey Suerte.
Joining them are collegiate stalwarts Kobe Paras, Calvin Oftana, Justin Baltazar, Kenmark Carino, Dave Ildefonso, Will Navarro, Jaydee Tungcab, and Gomez de Liano brothers Juan and Javi.
“We’ll finalize the final 12 before we fly to Bahrain,” said Uichico, who called the shots for the all-PBA national team during the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, Korea, and the gold medal winning squads in the 2015 (Myanmar) and 2017 (Malaysia) Southeast Asian Games.
Part of the coaching staff are Tab Baldwin, project director of the Gilas Pilipinas men’s basketball program, and Boyet Fernandez – two champion mentors at the collegiate level.
The national team is set to clash against Thailand twice in Group A, as well as Indonesia and Korea, although there were reports that the Koreans are not joining due to the pandemic.
“Sa totoo lang hinbdi pa din talaga namin alam ang totoong schedule. We are waiting… we asked FIBA to clarify. But kami naman ready lang kami to play, mabuti ng handa,” said Uichico.
“It’s going to be tough, because we’ll be facing experienced teams, lalo in international play. We have players who at one point played for the national team na din, and I hope that helps us.”
Korea leads the group with a 2-0 record followed by the Philippines at 1-0, while Thailand carries 0-1 card and Indonesia 0-2.