The Philippines gained some sort of victory on Tuesday as FIBA officially awarded one of three hosting rights of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying tournament to the basketball-crazy country.
But the journey towards greater glory continues as Gilas Pilipinas scrambles to form the 12-man lineup capable of salvaging that elusive Olympic ticket before their home crowd in June.
One of the reasons why the Philippines has made its way back to basketball prominence, at least in Asia, is they know what materials to use for a given tournament. Their consecutive silver medal finishes at the FIBA Asia Championship and an inspiring run at the FIBA World Cup were products of good scouting and fielding the right team.
While head coach Tab Baldwin stressed he will continue to bank on speed and versatility as his main weapons, he’s also aware that run-and-gun system won’t be enough to offset the significant height and size advantage their opponents will have.
That’s why Jun Mar Fajardo and Greg Slaughter, the country’s premier big men, should be shoo-ins for Gilas 4.0 in the upcoming Olympic qualifier. Not only that these behemoths will provide the team more ceiling, they will also allow Andray Blatche to slide into his natural position at the power forward.
Since his stint with the nationals at the FIBA World Cup two years ago, Fajardo has improved leaps and bounces, becoming the most dominant center Philippines basketball has ever seen in the last 15 years. Slaughter has also transformed into a force to be reckoned with in just his third year with Ginebra San Miguel, leading the team in points, rebounds and block departments.
The Philippines need these giants to step up their game, knowing the fact that bigger teams Lithuania, France, Serbia or even New Zealand will impose their presence down low.
At the power forward slots, Gilas mainstays Blatche, Japeth Aguilar and Ranidel De Ocampo (if he fully recovers from back injury) should be included. These players are veterans in international competition, having played against the world’s best at the 2014 World Cup. Moreover, they all have the ability to knock down long jumpers and stretch the floor for penetrators to operate.
There’s no doubt Gabe Norwood had been the team’s best perimeter defender and rightfully should assume that role at the qualifier. At 6-foot-5 with long arms, Norwood is the perfect equalizer to other team’s explosive swingman. But unlike in the past tournaments, Norwood might be finally getting a worthy reliever once 6-foot-5 Jordan Clarkson becomes eligible to play for the Philippines. Together, they provide versatility and athleticism previous teams didn’t have at the three spot.
Tapping the best shooting guards and playmaker shouldn’t be a problem as the Philippines possesses a deep reservoir of talents in these positions. Terrence Romeo, the PBA’s leading scorer, must be ready for his second stint with Gilas, so should energy guy Calvin Abueva and flat-out shooter Marcio Lassiter, who are clear-cut upgrades from Jeff Chan and Gary David as they are much better perimeter defenders.
At the guard, there are two legit playmakers out there who have the consistent outside stroke and body to duke it out with bigger guards: Jason Castro and Paul Lee. Castro, hailed the best point guard in Asia for the second straight FIBA Asia tournament, will remain the heart and soul of Gilas offense.
However, if he once again struggles against taller defenders like he did at the Worlds and vs. China at FIBA Asia, the 6-foot, 200-pound Lee might be the best bet to backup Castro. With all respect to L.A Tenorio, Lee is a more deliberate ball facilitator and three-point gunner (36 percent from three-point line in his career). Again, these guards know what it takes to win at the world stage and the Olympic qualifier won’t be different.
To recap my dream Gilas lineup, here’s the deep chart.
Center: Junmar Fajardo, Greg Slaughter
Power Forward: Andray Blatche, Ranidel De Ocampo, Japeth Aguilar
Small Forward: Gabe Norwood, Jordan Clarkson
Shooting Guard: Marcio Lassiter, Calvin Abueva, Terrence Romeo
Point Guard: Jason Castro, Paul Lee
Everyone has his/her own opinion on which players should be called up for this very important national duty of representing the country at the world stage. In fact, I feel that Troy Rosario should be given consideration as well, especially if he continues to become a consistent threat from the rainbow territory. But at the end of the day, it’s just a wish list for Gilas 4.0. A dream only Baldwin and his coaching staff could grant.