Gilas Pilipinas suffered a setback after Matt Nieto and Dave Ildefonso sustained injuries a few days before the third window of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers.
Nieto, who was selected by NLEX in the 2019 special Gilas PBA Rookie Draft, and Ildefonso – son of two-time PBA Most Valuable Player Danny Ildefonso – are both not joining the resumption of bubble training camp in Laguna.
“We lost Matt Nieto to a broken hand and he’ll be out for most of June… and probably for July but we hope to have him back by the FIBA Asia Cup,” said Gilas Men’s Program Director Tab Baldwin.
“Dave went out with a suspected stress fracture on his foot,” said Baldwin.
“But upon getting second opinion, it turned out to be a deep bone bruise so he’s going to take June to rehab that and we expect him to come back to the pool in July.”
Nieto injured his hand in a freak accident as it was caught on a teammate’s jersey. He initially thought he only needed rest but it became apparent that the injury was more serious
“(Losing Matt) created a great leadership void in the team and it’s very difficult to fill,” Baldwin said.
“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.”
“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.”
Gilas plays South Korea on June 16 and 20, and Indonesia on June 18 in the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers.
The national team is also preparing for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) on June 29 to July 4 in Serbia as the Filipinos face the Dominican Republic and host team Serbia.
Nieto was part of the national team that played two games during a bubble tournament in Bahrain where Gilas went 3-0. He averaged eight points and four assists in their two wins against Thailand in the Window 2 last November, while Ildefonso totaled seven points in two games.
“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.
“Fortunately, there aren’t more injuries. 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.”
Because of Nieto’s absence, Baldwin will now rely on two young point guards in SJ Belangel and RJ Abarrientos.
“SJ and RJ are both grooming themselves,” he said. “They’ve both accepted the role of being leaders. 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. He knows that’s his job. There are guys who’re going to do the job but they won’t do it the way Matt did it.”