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Versatile, tall Gilas assembled

Naturalized players Jordan Clarkson, Justin Brownlee and Ange Kouame headline the 21-man pool that will represent the Philippines in the FIBA World Cup two months from now.

A versatile and tall Gilas Pilipinas squad is being groomed to represent the country in the FIBA Basketball World Cup from 25 August to 10 September.

In a list released by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas in the wee hours of Tuesday, naturalized players Jordan Clarkson, Justin Brownlee and Ange Kouame headline the 21-man pool that will represent the country in the biggest, most prestigious basketball event in the world outside the Summer Olympics.

It’s not yet clear who among Clarkson, Brownlee and Kouame will suit up but they are known for their versatility, something that Gilas Pilipinas will need when it battles Dominican Republic, Angola and Italy in the group stage of the 32-nation tourney.

Clarkson, the National Basketball Association star who played for Gilas in the 18th Asian Games in 2018, reportedly agreed to join the training for six weeks while Brownlee and Kouame are also capable of stepping up due to their familiarity with the Filipino brand of game.

Only one among the three foreign-born players will be allowed to see action in the World Cup although reports have it that there’s a possibility for Clarkson and Brownlee to play at the same time.

Aside from Clarkson, Brownlee and Kouame, also part of the pool Japan-based players Dwight Ramos, Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena, Ray Parks, Jordan Heading and Carl Tamayo as well as Korean League star Rhenz Abando, and Philippine Basketball Association stalwarts Scottie Thompson, CJ Perez, Jamie Malonzo, Calvin Oftana, Roger Pogoy, Poy Erram and Chris Newsome.

All of these local players are capable of shooting, playmaking and attacking the basket, especially Thompson and Malonzo who can pose serious matchup problems with the opposing teams with their deadly brew of leaping ability, passing and shooting.

Interestingly, Gilas head coach Chot Reyes didn’t include a pure shooter like Marcio Lassiter and Matthew Wright in the 21-man pool.

Lassiter, after all, displayed impressive performance with his sniping ability during Gilas Pilipinas’ redemption campaign in the 32nd Southeast Asian Games while Wright had proven to be one of the country’s most bankable gunners from the perimeter.

But former Gilas head coach Rajko Toroman believes that having versatile and quick players can overcome the lack of pure shooters.

“I think Gilas won’t miss a pure shooter if Matthew Wright will not play as there are a lot of players like Dwight Ramos, Roger Pogoy, Kiefer Ravena, CJ Perez or even Justin Brownlee or Jordan Clarkson who can shoot from the outside,” Toroman said, stressing that basketball had already evolved.

Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas executive director Sonny Barrios call on Filipinos to rally behind the Gilas pool.

“Let’s support the pool,” he said in a message to Daily Tribune.

“I request you, my media friends, to call for full support for the Gilas pool from our countrymen. Masarap na maramdaman nila ang suporta ng bayan.”

He reiterated Reyes’ previous statement, saying that they are forming the “best team.”

“As Coach Chot said: We are having the best team, not necessarily the best players, for the World Cup, now that we know our group opponents.”

Aside from versatility, Reyes – the architect of Gilas Pilipinas return to the World Cup in 2013 — also put premium on ceiling with the presence of 7-foot-2 Kai Sotto, 6-foot-10 AJ Edu, 6-foot-9 June Mar Fajardo and 6-foot-9 Japeth Aguilar.

Sotto has yet to formally confirm his inclusion in the team as he is still busy chasing his dream of becoming the first full-blooded Filipino in the NBA while Fajardo and Aguilar are both expected to play after recovering from their respective injuries.

Edu, for his part, declared readiness to make his seniors team debut after emerging as the first overseas player to report for duty last week.

Gilas opened their training camp at the Meralco Gym in Pasig City on Wednesday and are scheduled to train inside the Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna from 12 to 16 June to develop chemistry.

From there, they will leave for Estonia on 22 June before taking a 390-kilometer trip to Lithuania for a series of friendlies against the Estonian, Latvian, Finnish national teams and Lithuanian club teams.

Estonia is bannered by NBA All-Star Lauri Markkanen while Latvia is headed by 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis.

After their 16-day European trip, Gilas will return to Manila on 10 June before leaving for China on 31 June to play a pocket tourney against Iran, Lebanon and Senegal from 2 to 6 August.

Once they return to Manila, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas is tipped to arrange a series of friendlies against World Cup teams that will arrive early.

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