In a couple of hours, Coach Tab Baldwin will unveil the 14 hardy Filipino basketball players who will be one step closer to making the final Gilas lineup for the Olympic Qualifying tournament.
Here’s my fearless forecast on who makes the cut, broken down into categories:
Andray Blatche – Of course he’s in. Of all the players, he’s the one truly indispensable one, thus he’s also the one pick that will never be in question.
Jayson Castro – Yes, “the Blur” and the current best PG in Asia has certainly earned the right to be a shoo-in. While there are other capable PGs in the roster, Castro is at his playing peak and it is evident in how he has been able to dominate Asian basketball in the last 4 years. Simply said, he’s heads and shoulders above his competition in this one. 
Junemar Fajardo – Believe it or not, Fajardo is a shoo-in not by virtue of performance but by virtue or philosophy. We know that Coach Tab has placed immense value in the presence and skill set of Fajardo. If only for the role he fulfills in Baldwin’s offensive and defensive schemes, he gets a slot virtually by default (especially with Greg Slaughter out with injuries, again).
Jeff Chan – The international game had always been a game for shooters. Our need for more shooters was painfully evident in Hunan so Jeff Chan becomes our designated shooter. Had Marcio Lassiter not been ill lately, he could have made a case for this spot or even made the cut as another shooter on board (God knows we need all we can get). But for now, the Negros Sniper is our best bet.
Gabe Norwood – Gabe Norwood is our designated wing stopper. Norwood always gets the hardest assignments, whether it’s the speedy PG, the streakshooting SG or the versatile SF. And that’s because no one does it quite as well as he does.
Terence Romeo – Romeo is the future of Gilas guards. He’s already shown that he has the ability to score on anyone and any team. For a team that struggles against bigger teams (meaning basically every team not in Southeast Asia), a fearless PG who scores against elite big men is heaven-sent.
Calvin Abueva – “The Beast” has been great as a change-of-pace guard/forward for Gilas, as well as an irritant to any team he faces (what else is new, right?) His ever increasing role also speaks well of how he receptive he has been to Baldwin’s coaching.
Ranidel de Ocampo – RDO is still the benchmark for “stretch 4s” among local big men. Add to that his penchant for making big plays plus his array of veteran moves underneath and you have an inside-out player who’s as complete as you can get.
Troy del Rosario – RDO’s heir apparent. Del Rosario has all the marking of a future star but needs seasoning. Good news is he has been getting very dedly from three and his decision making on court has also improved.
LA Tenorio – A far third as far as PG options is concerned. He certainly would have lost his spot had Paul Lee (or even Marcio Lassiter) not been injured. Tenorio is a great PG but Baldwin’s system needs a PG so deadly with the ball that the defense overplays him, and Tenorio is not that kind of a PG. But he’ll make the cut as an insurance policy.
Marc Pingris – We all know the size of Pingris’ heart (enormous) and his desire (flaming-hot) but you also have to consider just how much he has left in the tank as well as whether this slot should be better utilized on a player like Raymond Almazan (I know, I know, he’s not on the list). But the fact of the matter is, if there are veterans who might not make the cut, Pingris is one of them, especially with the reemergence of the next guy on our list.
Japeth Aguilar – We’ve all been enamored by the potential of Aguilar. For one reason or the other, he’s never lived up to all that we see. But the latest reports from the Gilas scrimmages are that Aguilar has been tearing it up. If he can prove that he’s (finally) got the handle on international basketball, he could very well move his way up to the indispensable list.
Bobby Ray Parks – This is a nod to the future but also, to recognition of Parks’ improvement while playing in the NBA D-League. He’s got good size as an SG, has an improved shooting stroke and has proven he can play with stiff competition. I think he makes it because his size and skill set is intriguing enough to warrant a longer look.
Kiefer Ravena – Another nod to the future, Ravena (together with Parks) has been the closest thing to an amateur superstar that Philippine basketball has had since the time of Alvin Patrimonio and Benjie Paras. Ravena will be tested against certified PBA and international stars and will become a much better player because of it.

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

How Bad Was The Gilas OQT Draw?

Bad enough.
Our group in the Manila Olympic Qualifying Tournament include what is probably the strongest team in the entire qualifiers (France) and in the other group, arguably the second or third strongest team (Canada). New Zealand, Senegal, and Turkey complete our group and of the three, it’s only Senegal that I’d say we’d be the favored to win. 
The short tournament format makes every game a must-win: lose one and you’ve got one foot out the door. So starting the tournament off by going up against the prohibitive favorites, France, certainly puts us in a bad situation almost immediately. If the likes of Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum, Rudy Gobert, Joakim Noah, Boris Diaw, Evan Fournier, Ian Mahinmi and Nando de Colo show the deadly form they showed at the 2014 FIBA World Cup, they should be heads and shoulders above everyone else.
The New Zealand game is a game we can win…if we play to our potential. The Kiwis will certainly be more physical than us…after all, they hone their game against Australia, one of the best in the world. So, in their minds, they will be the favorites to win. But a healthy Jason Castro, a fit Andray Blatche, a pain-free June Mar Fajardo and NBA star Jordan Clarkson should be more than up to the task.
Which brings us to the knock out games. It’s win or go home time and my guess is we’ll finish second in our group (after France). Which means we’ll probably go up against fast rising basketball superpower Canada. I actually like our chances against Canada, seeing as they may be more talented but experience and guile are definitely on our side. The Canadians are still trying to learn how to win so if we can force Canada to panic by playing hardcore defense, they’ll lose composure and make unforced errors.
If we do win against Canada, we’ll probably go up against France again. With an Olympic berth on the line, I think Gilas will try to bumrush the French in an effort to take them out of their game. Let’s hope it’s enough.
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GILAS-ables: Raymond Almazan

“GILAS-ables” is a series of articles that will discuss different players who could make a case for joining the Gilas pool. This series will include Fil-foreign players plying their trade in other leagues, the US NCAA, and the PBA.

In the second article in this series, we take a look at a young player with a huge upside: Rain Or Shine’s fast rising sophomore forward, Raymond Almazan.
Name: Almazan, Raymond
Team: Rain Or Shine Elasto Painters
Height: 6’ 9”
Weight: 194 lbs
College: Colegio de San Juan de Letran
6.8 points per game, 5.67 rebounds per game, .61 assists per game, .88 blocks per game
2015 Season:
9 points per game, 7.45 rebounds per game, 1 assist per game, 1 block per game
If you go by the numbers, there’s no way Raymond Almazan should be given a slot at the Gilas pool. There are just too many people who have better numbers, have more experience, have better reputations.
But if you look at the bigger picture, as well as the future of Gilas, there are loads of reasons to invest time and training in this young man. At 26, Almazan is still just approaching his prime playing years and if properly developed, he can be a monster on both offense and defense.

On offense, 9 points in 24 minutes is not a lot but you’ve got to remember that Rain Or Shine boasts of one of the truly team-oriented offenses in the league. In fact, only 5 points separate their leading scorer (Jericho Cruz with 14.71ppg in 24mins) from Almazan, their 6th leading scorer.

Almazan is 6’9” and reed thin but he’s also very mobile, capable of chasing down guards and blocking out bigs. He’s an accomplished defensive player who’s also learning to play physical, courtesy of his training under Extra Rice Inc (Beau Belga and JR Quinahan). He is also a ferocious rebounder, grabbing 7.5 rebounds in just 24 playing minutes. What’s even more impressive is he’s grabbing 2.5 of those rebounds on the offensive end, which means he’s finding ways to get position inside, even against bigger players.

He’s also had the benefit of playing for a coach like Yeng Guiao, who’s a certifiable tyrant. That means Almazan will be a disciplined player, capable of executing instructions under duress without cracking and able to withstand the hottest of tirades without wilting, which is important when the weight of a country’s expectations are suddenly laid on his coach’s shoulders.
However, Almazan needs to shine a lot more if he hopes to get even just a sniff of an invite to Gilas camp. The players he needs to prove himself against would be the likes of Japeth Aguilar, Troy Rosario, Moala Tautuua, Ranidel de Ocampo, and Marc Pingris, which is basically a murderer’s row of skilled power forwards. What he has going for him is that he’s young and has tons of upside, which bodes well for his chances moving forward.
Basically, Raymond Almazan could be the Junemar Fajardo from 2 years ago. When Fajardo started training with Gilas, he was barely used in games and struggled in his first two PBA conferences. Suddenly, the Gilas training turnd a light on in his head and he’s been dominating the PBA ever since. Imagine the same thing happening to Almazan, and, in two years’ time, having two 28year olds leading the Gilas frontline, one of whom is a 6-11 offensive juggernaut (Fajardo) and the other, a 6-9 defensive bastion (Almazan).
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GILAS-ables: Sean Anthony

“GILAS-ables” is a series of articles that will discuss different players who could make a case for joining the Gilas pool. This series will include Fil-foreign players plying their trade in other leagues, the US NCAA, and the PBA.
We kick off this series with a surprise entry: NLEX’s blossoming forward Sean Anthony.
Name: Anthony, Sean Michael
Team: NLEX Road Warriors
Height: 6’ 6”
Weight: 200 lbs
College: McGill University (Montreal, Canada)
8.75 points per game, 5.77 rebounds per game, 1.95 assists per game
2015 Season:
20.5 points per game, 12.8 rebounds per game, 4.7 assists per game
If you have been watching the current PBA season, then you know why Sean Anthony should be included in the Gilas pool. He has ore than doubled his career averages in points, rebounds, and assists and have shown a ferocity in his game that the PBA has not seen from him before.
The big man from McGill seemed destined to be a journeyman reserve but has recently dominated the opposition that is reminiscent of a young Benji Paras. In a blazing start to his season, Anthony logged double-doubles in NLEX’s first five games, before barely missing out on a sixth double-double (19pts, 9 rebounds). More importantly, NLEX is among the top PBA teams, with a 4-2 record, above traditional powerhouses like Barangay Ginebra, Talk ‘N Text and Purefoods.
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