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Revising the ’23 for 23’

Enzo Flojo

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Despite the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) has remained committed on its planned hosting of the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

The SBP will co-host the major global sports event together with the Japanese Basketball Association and the Persatuan Bola Basket Seluruh Indonesia.

The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) already announced the scheduled playdates for the 2023 World Cup, which should run from 25 August to 10 September of that year. Of course, that’s if the entire world will already fully be in the “new normal” mode of things post coronavirus.

As such, Gilas Pilipinas program director Tab Baldwin has been busy trying to devise ways of moving the program forward. The seasoned international and Univeristy Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) head coach has a lot on his plate, as in his own words, he is “serving two masters” when it comes to the Gilas men’s team.

They are currently in the middle of the qualifying phase for the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup while also looking ahead to the 2023 World Cup. That’s also aside from other continental and regional events like the 2021 Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam and the 2022 Asian Games in China.

In all, the SBP and the Gilas staff will have their work cut out for them in the next few years, and one of the things that will really help them is to form a respectable national pool.

Remember that in 2018, former Gilas coach Chot Reyes released a “23 for 23” list of players he thought would make strong cases for inclusion in the 2023 World Cup. Now, what I would like to do is to revise that list given all the developments from 2018 until now and see which players we can add to make the list more reflective of our current talent pool.

For my new “23 for 23,” I focused on prioritizing some of the top young talents form the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). By young, I mean guys who won’t be older than 30 years old in 2023, at least relatively speaking.

For the other spots, I generally chose players who are still in collage but have great potential to blossom into rising stars by the time 2023 rolls around.

They should make terrific complementary players to our PBA core. One caveat: I limited my choices to players who are clearly eligible to play as locals under FIBA’s rules. No naturalized players in my main “23 for 23” set, although a list of possible ones could be found at the end of this piece.

For our Gilas bigs, at the head of the pack is no less than multi-time PBA Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo.

Yes, Fajardo will be around 33 by the time we host the World Cup, but remember that he may also eventually be the most decorated PBA player in history. We cannot leave him out, especially if it means 2023 will be his swan song for Gilas.

Also, I really want to give him as many opportunities to effectively translate his PBA dominance into the international stage.

Following Fajardo will be the young twin-tower stars of Batang Gilas, Kai Sotto, and AJ Edu.

Both represent how bright the future of Philippine basketball will be and at just 18 and 20 years old respectively right now, Sotto and Edu will be perfect understudies to Fajardo come 2023.

After them will be current UAAP and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) big men Justine Baltazar of De La Salle University, Geo Chiu of Ateneo de Manila University, and Kenmark Cariño of San Beda University.

All of them stand 6-foot-8 or taller and have the potential to be future bulwarks of the Gilas frontline. From the PBA ranks, we also have 6-foot-6 Abu Tratter, who had a solid 2019 season, and 6-foot-8 Isaac Go, whose basketball IQ is second to none.

Out on the wings, my top two choices are TNT KaTropa’s Troy Rosario and National University’s (NU) Carl Tamayo.

Both are very comfortable playing the four spot for their respective teams, but we will need them to play to learn playing as “big wings” when 2023 comes around. They have the perfect size and skillset to match up with opposing small forwards from Europe, Africa, and the Americas, so they should be shoo-ins.

Right behind them are three upstarts who should play major roles for Gilas as well: University of the Philippines’ (UP) Kobe Paras, former Ateneo star Thirdy Ravena, and current TNT KaTropa Bobby Ray Parks Jr.

Paras and Parks have great size to play as shooting guards in the international game while Thirdy has so much athleticism and explosiveness.

From the PBA, Blackwater’s Mac Belo and Rain or Shine’s Javee Mocon are also worthy inclusions into the pool.

Belo has seen some international action and is a three-time PBA All-Star while Mocon surprised a lot of people by being among the best rookies in 2019.

UAAP studs Dwight Ramos of Ateneo and Rhenz Abando of University of Santo Tomas would join them as well with both sure to have bright horizons in their basketball careers.

The Philippines has a plethora of talented guards, but I would like to avoid the temptation of overpopulating this position.

My picks for the remaining six spots in the “23 for 23” list are NLEX’s Kiefer Ravena, NorthPort’s Robert Bolick, Columbian’s CJ Perez, TNT KaTropa’s RR Pogoy, Ginebra’s Scottie Thompson, and Meralco’s Baser Amer.

Yes, it’s an all-PBA crew for the guards.

All six have international experience, killed it this past PBA season, and should continue to improve in the run-up to the 2023 World Cup. Any of these cats could make the final cut, and we would have a guard corps we can be proud of.

Some honorable mentions are NU’s Dave Ildefonso along with UP’s Juan Gomez De Liaño and Ricci Rivero. I wouldn’t mind at all if any of those guys made it as alternates in the pool.

As promised, from my perspective, here are the most promising prospects for naturalization.

Remember that some of these have Filipino blood already, but don’t forget that FIBA’s eligibility is predicated on nationality not race or lineage.

Of course, Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson leads any list of possible prospects for naturalization.

He is followed by US NCAA Filipino -American standouts like Remy Martin of Arizona State, 6-foot-11 Quentin Millora-Brown of Vanderbilt, 6-foot-7 Kai Ballungay of Stanislaus State, Ron Harper, Jr. of Rutgers, and Jeron Artest of University of California Irvine.

Let’s also not forget Ateneo’s Ange Kouame and former PBA import Chris McCullough, both of whom have signified their intent to go through with the naturalization process.

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