Coach Yeng Guiao and the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (BSP) just released the 20-man Team Pilipinas pool that will play in the fifth Asian Qualifiers window starting 30 November.
As always, there were some omissions and surprises but for the most part, it’s an impressive list that some described it as the best national team pool ever.
The jury is still out on that, of course, but one thing is without question — this is the tallest in the history of Philippine basketball.
And that’s saying a lot since we won’t have naturalized center Andray Blatche (more on that in future columns) for the first time since the FIBA Asia Cup 2017.
As has been publicized to death already, bannering the 20-man pool will be our own version of China’s “Walking Great Wall” that dominated Asian hoops in the 1990s.
At the head of the pack is five-time PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo, who hasn’t been in his best in the current Governors’ Cup, but he will surely feature prominently in the next two matches against Kazakhstan’s Steppe Wolves and Iran’s Team Melli.
Backing the Kraken up will be fellow Beerman Christian Standhardinger, fellow Cebu product Greg Slaughter, veteran forward Japeth Aguilar, sweet-shooting Troy Rosario, and maybe the most intriguing prospect of all, 16-year-old 10th-grader Kai Sotto of the Ateneo Blue Eaglets.
That Sotto is part of pool doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll play against the likes of Hamed Haddadi and Rouzbeh Arghavan, but at the very least, he’ll be training with the best big men of the country under the tutelage of one of the most unifying coaches the SBP has in its stable.
And what a wonderful thing coach Yeng Guiao is, yes? It was formerly unfathomable to have this kind of pool available for Team Pilipinas, but lo and behold, coach Yeng actually put nearly every elite PBA talent on the roster.
It means that for the first time since nearly a decade ago, we will see Arwind Santos back in the national team (interestingly, he also played under coach Yeng the last time he donned the tri-color kits for Powerade Team Pilipinas in 2009) and for the first time ever, he will be on the same national squad as the returning Jayson Castro, who has one game left to serve under his FIBA-mandated suspension.
Another young buck to watch is UP Fighting Maroon Ricci Rivero, who is arguably the best young wingman not playing in the PBA, though Thirdy Ravena and CJ Perez will definitely have a lot to say about that. Rivero, Sotto, Ravena and Perez are sure to be future cornerstones of Team Pilipinas and it’s great to see at least a couple of them get called up in the current Asian Qualifiers.
Another thing to look at is having two naturalized players in Standhardinger and Stanley Pringle. This is a smart move for coach Yeng since he’ll have the flexibility to choose which one can be a better fit for the opposition considering the vastly different play styles of the Kazakhs and Iranians. Pringle could be a better choice against Kazakhstan while Standhardinger could be a better matchup against big and nasty Iran.