Clarkson and Blatche Joins Gilas Training

Jordan Clarkson showed his support for Gilas Pilipinas as he joined naturalized import Andray Blatche train with the team in their closed-door session at the Kerry’s Gym inside the Shangri-La Hotel.

Lakers star Jordan Clarkson joins Gilas training despite not being in the 24-man pool

In a press conference by Nike before the close-door practice, Clarkson still strongly expresses his eagerness in representing the country on the court despite not being included to the 24-man pool submitted to FIBA. However, Clarkson is confident and believes that the team can get the job done and get a ticket to Rio.

Andray Blatche rests as coach Tab Baldwin explains some of the plays.

Andray Blatche walks off the court after Gilas practice

Meanwhile, Andray Blatche looks better and a lighter during their Saturday practice unlike when he showed up out of shape before the FIBA Asia Championship last year. Despite looking overweight, he remained as an important piece in the silver medal finish last year. Andray still joined the practice Saturday afternoon despite arriving in the morning which shows his determination in bringing the Gilas in Rio Olympics.

Gilas closed-door session at the Kerry Sports gym, Shangri-la Hotel

To Play Or Not To Play

In the days that came after Gilas brought home the silver medal in the FIBA Asia Championships and a slot in the Rio Olympic qualifiers, controversy struck the Philippine basketball scene. Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas Chairman Manny Pangilinan opined that we should consider giving up our slot in the Olympic qualifiers, if we could not secure the needed support from all Philippine basketball stakeholders.
In fact, Mr. Pangilinan practically admitted that, given the strength of the other teams in the Olympic qualifiers, Gilas 3.0 as constructed had little to no chance of snagging a ticket to Rio. But he also left a door open, saying that if a commitment can be attained from the PBA that the SBP will have full access to all the players, then he not only send a Gilas team but would also bid to be a host for one of the qualifying tournaments.
Our current situation is replete with political issues and maneuverings, which this writer is not in any way an expert of. So let’s stick with the basketball side of things and answer this question: Should we send a team to the Olympic qualifiers?
And the answer to that is: Yes. But not for sentimental or emotional reasons. We should send a team for the right reasons. And as far as I’m concerned, there are only two “right” reasons.
Right Reason #1 – If we can realistically win a ticket to Rio. That means sending the best team we can possibly form. Which means players like June Mar Fajardo, Paul Lee, Jeff Chan and Jordan Clarkson must be on the squad. Ironically, it’s Jordan Clarkson who may be the easiest to get on board.
That also means Andray Blatche must be in playing shape, and that there are no injuries to key players like Jayson Castro, Gabe Norwood, Ranidel de Ocampo or Marc Pingris. 
Add to that a proper training camp, several hard tune up games and a controversy-free training atmosphere and we should be in business. (Read how this team can win here)

Right Reason #2 – To train a team for the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers and the FIBA World Cup 2019. We have basically 4 years to train for the 2019 FIBA World Cup. We should make full use of those years, if we want to make back-to-back appearances on international basketball’s biggest stage.
What that means is making the sacrifice now for future gains.  That may be hard to swallow for the proud Filipino fan but the reality is that, among Gilas 3.0 players, only Terence Romeo (23 years old) and Matt Ganuelas-Rosser (25 years old) may still be in their prime when the 2019 World Cup comes around.  Calvin Abueva will be 31 by then, which will put him on the downhill side of his career, while Blatche and Castro will both be 33, almost definitely past their prime as well.
If we go with this reason, then starting next year, our team should be composed of players like Jordan Clarkson, Terence Romeo, Matt Ganuelas-Rosser, Troy Rosario, Kiefer Ravena, Kobe Paras, Kevin Ferrer, Rey Belo, Paolo Rivero, Arnold Van Opstal, Norbert Torres and maybe even a young naturalized player.
Pangilinan actually made reference to doing what China just did, which is craft a long-term plan for getting back on top of Asian basketball. Their plan (to be discussed in an upcoming article) bore fruit this year, as China emerged undefeated from the FIBA Asia Championships with the lone ticket to Rio. That is what Pangilinan hopes to replicate with a Gilas-in-training team.
As for other reasons, there will be many, but none which will actually be beneficial to Philippine basketball. A watered down Gilas squad sent only for pride’s sake or to avoid getting banned by FIBA will only provide more fodder for the already fiery duel between the SBP and the PBA, which might send Philippine basketball down the road to perdition yet again.
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The Difficult Road Ahead (Part 2)

In part two of our analysis on the chances of Gilas to advance to the Rio Olympics via the Olympic Qualifiers, we’ll take into consideration some of their notable opponents.
C – JunMar Fajardo
PF – Slim Andray Blatche/Ranidel de Ocampo/Marc Pingris
SF – Gabe Norwood/Alvin Abueva/Jeth Troy Rosario
SG – Jordan Clarkson/Paul Lee/ Jeff Chan
PG – Jayson Castro/Terence Romeo
This team can do a lot of damage and, depending on the other teams in their group, may have a slight chance of getting a ticket to Rio.
Teams they can handle: Iran, Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico, New Zealand, Italy
I think Gilas will have more than enough firepower to once again upend its Asian neighbors, as well as Puerto Rico. Against Mexico and New Zealand, Gilas will have to make sure that their guards (Castro, Clarkson and Romeo) and wingmen are in peak form, as these are the positions where we’d have a clear advantage. Against Italy, it’s the bigs who will make a difference, as Blatche, Fajardo, de Ocampo and Pingris can take advantage of the relative passiveness of the Italian big men.
Teams they’ll struggle against: France, Serbia, Greece, Canada, Czech Republic

Not surprisingly, these are the teams with legitimate NBA or Euroleague talent. The Czech Republic may be the easiest of these teams to beat, but 7footer Jan Vesely and 6-7 point guard Tomas Satoransky will definitely make sure we sweat blood trying to get past them. Greece and Serbia are both very strong in all positions and are two of the most skilled teams in the world.  Canada and France are choc-full of NBA talent and we’re not talking about end-of-the-bench NBA players here. We’re talking about legitimate NBA stars like Tony Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Rudy Gobert, and Nicolas Batum as well as rotation players like Boris Diaw, Nando de Colo, Cory Joseph, Anthony Bennett, Evan Fournier, Andrew Nicholson, Nik Stauskas, Kelly Olynyk and Robert Sacre. Getting past those two teams will be the most difficult task of all. (The FIBA qualifiers will be on July 5-11, right when the NBA is on its yearly break, so these NBA players will be available)
Well first, we’d need the luck of the draw.  With 15 teams being divided into 3 groups, we’re looking at a 5-team group with the champion getting the Rio ticket. Which means we need to get into a group with 3 winnable games, and 1 hard game that isn’t France or Canada. So if Gilas was grouped with Puerto Rico, New Zealand, Italy and Greece, we might actually have a realistic chance of earning a Rio ticket.
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