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.
THE WILD CARDS
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.