The moment of truth has finally arrived as Gilas Pilipinas is set to announce the 12 players who will represent the country in the FIBA Basketball World Cup that opens on Friday at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.
Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Al Panlilio said they are keeping their cards close to their chest until the submission of the final roster during the team managers meeting on Wednesday.
So far, there are 16 players in the pool with only eight, including naturalized player Jordan Clarkson and National Basketball Association hopeful Kai Sotto, appear to have inside track.
“While other teams don’t like surprises as they have already revealed their final 12, we want to make it more surprising and take advantage of the fact that we can name the final 12 until before the team managers’ meeting on 23 August,” Panlilio said.
“It’s not going to be easy for the coaching staff but at least we now have an idea on who to put there based on their performance in the tune-up matches as well as the training sessions. We need players who are committed and willing to give their all for our countrymen.”
Aside from Clarkson and Sotto, also said to be shoo-ins in the final roster are World Cup veterans June Mar Fajardo and Japeth Aguilar, rising star AJ Edu, mainstay Dwight Ramos, and Barangay Ginebra stalwarts Scottie Thompson and Jamie Malonzo.
With that, the four remaining spots will be up for grabs, prompting head coach Chot Reyes and his deputies Tim Cone, Jong Uichico and Josh Reyes to burn the midnight oil in deciding who deserves to make the national squad.
Clarkson, the star player of the Utah Jazz, is slowly regaining his old and deadly form that makes him a perfect go-to-guy for the squad that will face the Dominican Republic, Angola and Italy in the preliminaries.
In their last friendly match against Mexico, Reyes opted to rest Clarkson to preserve his energy for their opening salvo against the Dominicans at the 55,000-seater venue.
Clarkson also didn’t play the entire fourth period of Gilas’ 85-62 beat down of Ivory Coast and only played two minutes in the final canto of their match against Montenegro.
The four big men are likely assured of roster spots with Fajardo and Aguilar bringing in their rich experience playing in past two editions of the World Cup while Sotto and Edu are projected to serve as the next torch bearers of the next national squads.
Fajardo and Aguilar had been members of the Gilas program since 2013 and are now winding down their respective careers playing for the country to give way to the next wave of bigger, younger and highly-potential players in Edu and Sotto.
Edu is a 6-foot-10 forward and despite being a first-time participant in the men’s team, he had proven himself worthy of a spot.
Sotto’s overwhelming size and upside are hard to pass up as well. Despite the fact that he is still trying to get back in shape, he remains a solid choice for the final roster.
Ramos is probably the most consistent local player and is the most versatile among the aspirants while Thompson is a sentimental favorite and his determination to return to action from a finger injury is truly impressive.
Malonzo is a 6-foot-6 wingman who can match up well with taller, athletically-gifted and talented international players.
With that, brothers Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena, Ray Parks, Rhenz Abando, Calvin Oftana, Chris Newsome, Calvin Oftana and CJ Perez are left duking it out for the remaining spots.