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Plotting the future

Enzo Flojo

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It’s very good to know that the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) remains committed to its hosting of the FIBA World Cup in 2023 despite these very challenging times.

Now, it certainly wouldn’t hurt if we look ahead and see what our Gilas Men’s squad would look like when the world’s biggest and most prestigious basketball tournament lands in Manila.

What follows is a list of 10 players who, by judging their current performances and gauging their expected progression in the next few years, should be no-brainer picks to make it to the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup pool – or to the actual roster.

In this list, the priority is choosing some of the top young talents, whether they are currently in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), the University Athletic Association or elsewhere. As rule, no player, except for one exception, should be older by 30 years old in 2023.

Remember that we also want our 2023 core to be intact even after that competition so they can be highly competitive in the next few tournaments like, perhaps, the 2024 Olympics in Paris, 2025 Asia Cup, 2026 Aichi-Nagoya Asian Games and the 2027 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

JUNE MAR FAJARDO
Right off the bat, leading the team should be no other than multi-time PBA Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo.

Fajardo will already 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 last hurrah for Gilas, and we all want to see him effectively translate his PBA dominance onto the international stage.

KAI SOTTO
Potentially forming a potent twin-tower combo with Fajardo at the slot should be Kai Sotto.

Even if Sotto will just be 21 in the next World Cup, we need him on the men’s team as soon as possible. By that time, if all things fall into place, he would also have one to two years of experience in the NBA under his belt already, and boy, that would be pretty awesome.

ARIEL JOHN EDU
Along with Fajardo and Sotto should be Filipino-Nigerian center Ariel John Edu.

The 6-foot-11 Edu has represented the country so well in several past tournaments, and there’s no way he should be excluded in 2023.

His size, length, and skill-set make him sure a terrific player, and he is also a very coachable kid. He will be 23 years old by the time the World Cup rolls around, which would be quite perfect.

TROY ROSARIO
I would also like to see TNT KaTropa’s Troy Rosario make it in 2023.

He brings size, shooting, and experience with him, and he will be a valuable asset for Gilas. He needs to be converted from a big man to a wingman, though, and yes we saw that last year in the World Cup in China, but we hope he can transition into that role much better in a few years’ time, especially since 2023 may be his last chance to play on the world stage as he will be 31 years old already.

CARL TAMAYO
Rosario’s understudy should be no other than Carl Tamayo of National University.

The 6-foot-8 Cebuano big man has the versatility to be a converted wingman just like Troy, and it would be truly unprecedented to have more than one wingman who is 6-foot-7 or taller for our national team.

Tamayo will be 22 years old in the next World Cup, which means he’ll be part of that core that will carry our colors in the foreseeable future.

KIEFER RAVENA
In the perimeter and backcourt, I still want Kiefer Ravena to lead the way.

Like Rosario, Ravena will be around 30 already when the next World Cup commences, but someone like him won’t really rely solely on his physical gifts for his production.

His experience from the 2019 World Cup should serve him well, and he’ll be the team’s de facto leader and floor general on the floor.

THIRDY RAVENA
I also want to see Ravena’s younger brother, Thirdy, in the fold.

This is a little tricky because Thirdy will be undersized in his natural small forward spot, and he may not be as quick and nimble as the top tier shooting guards in the World Cup.

What he brings, however, is a lot of fire, athleticism, and tenacity, all of whom he will need as he scrambles to slip past screens and tries to shadow his defensive assignment. If Thirdy can hit the treys with consistency and further improve his ballhandling, he would be the perfect “3-and-D” guy for Gilas.

RAY PARKS
Ravena’s contemporary, Bobby Ray Parks, Jr., is also one guy one want to see in 2023.

He will be 30 years old by then, but that should still be at his physical prime. At 6-foot-4, Parks has great size to be a shooting guard on the world stage, and like Thirdy, he has all the physical and athletic gifts to be a pain in any opponent’s neck.

He doesn’t need to be a dominant slasher, just a tough defender and consistent perimeter threat.

KOBE PARAS
Kobe Paras should also give us even more length and athleticism at the perimeter.

At 6-foot-6, Paras can potentially play three spots on the floor for Gilas: A big off-guard, a small forward, or a small-ball four.

He will also be 26 years old in 2023, which also makes him an integral part of that young Gilas core we want to develop and see rise up the international ranks as one unit. If Paras can continue learning to play within a given system and further improve his defense and shooting, he can potentially become an x-factor for our national team.

CJ PEREZ
The tenth guy I want to see is PBA Rookie of the Year CJ Perez.

We all saw how Perez turned heads in last year’s World Cup, and if he continues to dominate in the PBA for the next two to three years, we shouldn’t be surprised to see him become the top shooting guard option for Gilas in 2023.

Of course, he will be undersized at just 6-foot-1, but if there’s anyone who can turn a perceived weakness into strength, it’s definitely Perez.

Watch him sneak up to disrupt passing lanes or run past everyone in transition. Watch him slip past defenders for easy baskets or swish those jumpers.

At 30 years old, he along with Fajardo, Rosario and Ravena, will be among the leading voices of this team.

I didn’t include anybody who is not guaranteed to be locally eligible, so don’t look for Jordan Clarkson, Remy Martin, or Ron Harper Jr.

If they become eligible before 2023, then that would be absolutely terrific; otherwise, we shouldn’t count on such uncertainties. I would bat for Clarkson to be our top choice as a naturalized player, though, since by 2023 he will already be 31, and that may be our final chance to see him play for Gilas in the World Cup.

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