This is going to be a huge year for Philippine basketball, especially with Team Pilipinas trying to punch its ticket to the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup and with the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers beginning November.
Eric Altamirano is at the top of my list
Our youth teams, however, will be just as busy. Our Batang Gilas U18 team finished among the Top 4 in the 2018 FIBA U18 Asia Cup and they will play in this year’s FIBA U19 World Cup in Heraklion Greece.
The U16 youth team, meanwhile, is slated to compete in the 2019 FIBA U16 Asia Cup, which is expected to be held in Beijing, China.
Unlike their senior counterparts, however, Batang Gilas are yet to have their coaching staff named after the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) revamp late last year that saw erstwhile head coach Josh Reyes and his staff relieved of their duties.
I’ve come up with a list of personnel who, at least in my personal view, have a number of skills they can use in steering Batang Gilas this year.
Take note, this is list is purely my own making. I haven’t consulted with any member of the SBP or major national team sponsor Chooks-To-Go.
Based on my experience covering Asian youth basketball for the last seven years and after being with Batang Gilas at the U17 World Cup last year, I think some key traits for a strong youth team head coach are: availability, international experience, youth basketball experience and track record.
With that said, let’s look at the list. Let’s begin with five guys who are currently not head coaches of any pro or amateur squad.
Eric Altamirano is at the top of my list. The 52-year-old UP alum has a lot of experience coaching the national youth team. He helmed the Nokia RP-Youth team (U16 and U18) from 2009-2010 and as the current Project Director of the National Basketball Training Center (NBTC), he has access to most if not all the top youth talents of the country. I think he’ll be a great choice to make a comeback to the youth team.
Nash Racela is also a very good candidate. He should be available, since he’s no longer with TNT in the PBA and he has also coached internationally, leading the Philippines to the 2016 SEABA Cup. He’s known as a smart, patient and level-headed bench tactician who communicates really well with his wards. He can also pick the brains of his brother, Olsen, who coached the Energen Pilipinas youth teams (U16 and U18) in 2011 and 2012.
Unlike their senior counterparts, however, Batang Gilas are yet to have their coaching staff named after the SBP revamp late last year.
My next choice may raise some eyebrows, seeing as he’s currently the head of TV5 and that it was his son who was recently detached from the Batang Gilas program. I am, of course, talking of Chot Reyes. He is perhaps the most experienced homegrown international basketball coach we have in the country and he can ensure a continuity of systems and playing style should he be given a chance to coach Batang Gilas.
My next candidate is a colleague and one of my idols from the PBA — Ronnie Magsanoc. He’s been coaching on-and-off since 2002 and is widely considered as one of the sharpest minds in Philippine basketball, whether he’s on the bench or on the call. He has experience in coaching young players in San Beda and Ateneo de Manila and it’d be very interesting to see him debut as a head coach in the international circuit.
Okay, this will also raise eyebrows, but I think recent PBA retiree Chris Tiu also has the chops to be a youth team head coach. I don’t remember him ever playing for the national U16 or U18 team of his generation, but everyone remembers him starring for several iterations of Gilas Pilipinas. For such a long time, he has been one of the epitomes of “Puso,” and combined with his experience, high basketball IQ and charisma, he could be a potentially effective Batang Gilas mentor.
Okay, my last five picks are those who are currently involved in strong school programs, though availability may be an issue because of their school commitments.
Let’s begin with Goldwin Monteverde, one of Josh Reyes’s assistant coaches last year. What I love about “Coach Gold” is his access to a great number of the best youth talents in the country. He’s connected to both National University and Chiang Kai Shek and he is one of the reasons both of those programs have become high school basketball powerhouses. With Coach Gold at the helm, I have no doubt Batang Gilas will be chock-full of size and talent.
For me, coach Marvin Bienvenida of La Salle Green Hills is also a good choice. I’ve seen Coach Marvin raise the CSB-LSGH program and build it into a bona fide title contender at every level and in every league they join. As LSGH head coach, he also has access to some of the best U16 and U18 players in the country, but one concern is that the NCAA Juniors season runs in conflict with the FIBA U16 Asia Cup and FIBA U18 World Cup schedules.
Former San Beda Red Cubs head coach JB Sison is also in my radar. He served as an assistant to coach Michael Oliver in the 2017 SEABA U16 tourney and is currently an assistant to coach Boyet Fernandez for the Red Lions, which gives coach JB access to some of the best young talents around. His track record for the Red Cubs also speaks for itself as he has won three NCAA Juniors crowns.
One guy on whom I’ve always been high, though he is very much under-the-radar, is a former colleague and the Basketball Program Head of Xavier School San Juan, coach John L. Sy. “Doc John,” as he was called when I was still working in Xavier, is for me one of the best yet most unheralded amateur coaches in the country. With him at the helm, Xavier has won youth tournaments left and right despite not having the robust recruitment pull that other marquee high schools have. His acumen should be invaluable for a national youth team like Batang Gilas.
At the bottom of my list, though maybe this is my way of “saving the best for last,” is none other than back-to-back UAAP Men’s Basketball champion head coach Tab Baldwin of Ateneo de Manila. Yes, no less than Manny V. Pangilinan has expressed his desire to see coach Tab head the Batang Gilas program, and I cannot disagree with MVP. Coach Tab checks all the boxes — experience, acumen, track record. Well, nearly all the boxes. Being Ateneo head coach is obviously a full-time job, and targeting a rare UAAP three-peat will take a ton of work, which is his top priority when the team reconvenes in preparation for Season 82. That means coach Tab’s availability may be in question but with 15 of their 16 players returning for next season, Ateneo should hit the ground running and with a high level of stability.
I’m hoping that’ll be enough to maybe push coach Tab to accept the Batang Gilas offer should it come his way.