Taking no chances | Inquirer Sports

All signs point to yet another pro-boosted Gilas Pilipinas squad for the 2021 Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers next month as the Philippines shoots for that one win that would shove it to the continental championship in August.

A list of 29 players was forwarded by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) to the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) on Monday as the two bodies now begin talking to the cagers concerned with a training bubble in Angeles City in Pampanga province, waiting for them to enter on Jan. 22.

NLEX guard Kiefer Ravena, who skippered the squad in the first window, on Sunday was the first PBA star in the bubble, joining young Gilas talents as the likes of Roger Pogoy, CJ Perez and a lot of others are expected to follow suit and reinforce the squad against regional power South Korea and Indonesia.

Jayson Castro, voted as the best point guard in Asia twice, won’t be available this time because of injuries, a reliable Inquirer source disclosed.

“We had very good discussions with the [league] and we were able to get the commitment of several PBA players who will be part of the second batch coming into the bubble training on Jan. 22,” SBP president Al Panlilio said in a statement.

Part of the initial delegation are 2019 Special Rookie Draft picks Isaac Go, Matt Nieto, Mike Nieto and Rey Suerte. Also in the bunch are collegiate standouts Javi Gomez de Liaño, Dave Ildefonso, Justine Baltazar, William Navaro, Calvin Oftana, Kenmark Cariño, along with Angelo Kouame, a prime candidate for naturalization.

Gilas won’t be having Kouame next month with his naturalization still pending in Congress, but the same source said that Christian Standhardinger’s name is on the list and the NorthPort center could ultimately be tapped to give the Philippines a steady inside force against the South Koreans and the Indonesians.

The Philippines currently holds a 3-0 slate in Group A, and the Nationals are set to play the Koreans on Feb. 18 and then again on the 22nd, sandwiching the only clash Indonesia on the 20th, also within a bubble setup in Clark Freeport.

Gilas needs only one more victory to officially secure its spot in the main tournament, which will be held in Indonesia.

The Philippines wants to assemble the best team available with the window to be held at home, although the Filipinos would still have a huge advantage in manpower compared to the Indonesians even without PBA stars.

Korea, meanwhile, is reportedly sending its A-Team led by Ra Gun-ah, formerly known as Ricardo Ratliffe, the former Purefoods import in the PBA.

Seven PBA stars were loaned to the program during the qualifiers’ first window in Indonesia: Ravena, Pogoy, Troy Rosario, Perez, Poy Erram, Abu Tratter and Justin Chua.

“Pros will be tapped again simply because the games are going to be held here,” an individual familiar with the inner workings of the PBA and the national program told the Inquirer on the condition of anonymity.

Still, the stint should also serve the pros well, as it affords them an opportunity to work on their conditioning in the monthslong lull leading to the PBA’s 46th season which is set, barring any complications, on April 9. INQ

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