Philippine basketball legend Ramon Fernandez is all for retaining the current Gilas Pilipinas core for the long-term prospects of both the young players and the program itself.
Fernandez, member of the PBA's 40 Greatest Players and currently commissioner of the Philippine Sports Commission, said that the youngsters who had trained and then competed in the final leg of the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers would greatly benefit from sticking together and playing in more international tournaments.
"I think these kids should be the ones sent to tournaments. Not for anything else, but this is thinking long-term," expressed Fernandez in a mix of English and Filipino Tuesday in the virtual Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum. "If we expose these kids to this level of competition, surely they'll (continue to) improve."
Under returning head coach Tab Baldwin, a Gilas team with an average age of 22 took care of business in its last three assignments, including a pair of big wins against Korea, to close out the qualifiers with an unbeaten 6-0 record.
According to Baldwin, the very same lineup would soon fly to Belgrade, where they would take on hosts Serbia and Dominican Republic in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) on June 30 and July 1, respectively.
Fernandez, however, believes that this core should stay intact for even longer just so they could continue building on their gains.
"They shouldn't change that lineup. That would have a negative effect on the kids," he remarked. "I'm glad that finally, these young boys are given the chance to represent the country. It's good for them, it's good for their future, for their careers."
The 19-time PBA champion even said that this approach in building the national team should have been done long ago, citing the difficulties of recruiting pros to the roster as well as the bigger potential for growth that young players offer compared to their older counterparts.
"PBA players will still improve, yes, but not to the level that these kids will grow. This is a better tactic from the SBP (Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas) to improve the quality of basketball for these young players," he opined.
"This should have been done a long time ago, because we know for a fact that we experienced it already, that it's difficult to get athletes from the pro ranks to play for the national team. History will repeat itself. We never learn from history. That's why I'm really glad that these are the players they decided to send," he continued.
Baldwin, for his part, had stated in previous interviews that PBA players remain in the Gilas program's plans for future tournaments, including the 2023 World Cup.
But right now, with no pros on hand for both the OQT and the Asia Cup proper in August, the American-Kiwi coach and the rest of the SBP are understandably devoting all their attention to honing young prospects.
"I think that these players have their own confidence - the confidence of youth, the confidence of hard work, the confidence that comes with having some success. But the coaching staff takes a much more critical view of things and we're focused very much on areas of improvement that are evident to us and we'll certainly make them evident to the players," detailed Baldwin in his post-game interview after beating Korea anew last Sunday.
"We want them to believe in themselves and I think that they do, but we also want to temper that with the fact that this is a long-term job. In order to do this job well at the level we hope to get to, we always have to stay focused on improvement. You can't be overconfident because there's so much work left to do," he also added.