Gilas Pilipinas returned to the Philippines after an impressive two-game sweep of Jordan and Saudi Arabia in the fifth window of the 2023 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers. The sixth and final window will be held in February with Gilas facing Jordan and Lebanon at home at the Philippine Arena.
Since the Philippines is a co-host of the World Cup, Gilas has already qualified for next year's tournament. But the team will still treat the two final qualifying games with utmost importance ahead of the World Cup.
What did we learn from Gilas in the fifth window? What can we expect from them in February? Here are three main points.
Gilas has several quality guards
It's fair to wonder which players would have been dropped had Kiefer Ravena or Chris Newsome been available for this window. Scottie Thompson fully embraced his new role as ball distributor, while also coming up with several huge plays in both games. CJ Perez was Gilas' quickest and most athletic guard, and while he sometimes made poor decisions, he showed he was a good shot creator whenever the offense sputtered. RR Pogoy finally found his range in international play while Ray Parks was automatic from beyond the arc and proved to be a useful defender with his height and athleticism.
All this will leave Chot Reyes with a happy problem come February and even August. Aside from Ravena and Newsome, it's possible Robert Bolick will be tapped again. Leading UAAP MVP candidate Schonny Winston of La Salle is also possible after recently being classified as a local by FIBA. Will Navarro, an intriguing two-guard prospect because of his height (6-foot-4), was a late cut and could also get another call-up for camp. That hypothetically leaves Gilas with a guard pool that is, at minimum, nine-deep for the February window. When August rolls around, the best Gilas guard, Jordan Clarkson, will take one of the slots, leaving the others to "try out" for the remaining guard spots. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds in the next months.
Where does this leave the college kids?
Only two collegiate players -- Ange Kouame of Ateneo and Kevin Quiambao of DLSU -- suited up in the fifth window. A third, Carl Tamayo of UP, withdrew to recover from an ankle injury. Kouame averaged 3.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in 13 minutes, while Quiambao saw action for an inconsequential three minutes against Saudi Arabia and failed to register a single statistic. Tamayo, possibly the best local college big man in the country today, has played in three games in the qualifiers and averaged 8.3 points and 5.3 rebounds.
If June Mar Fajardo had been available, it's likely Quiambao would have been left off. Kouame showed better consistency on defense than Kai Sotto, but lacked Sotto's and Japeth Aguilar's offense. It's likely Sotto will again be available in February -- other NBL players also played for Australia and New Zealand in the fifth window -- with Fajardo and Aguilar sure to be locks. That leaves Tamayo with an outside chance of becoming the fourth big man.
Kouame is still a solid frontcourt rotation player, but the problem is he takes up the teams' slot for the naturalized player. And if things go according to plan ...
Justin Brownlee could suit up for Gilas in February
During Tuesday's Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) executive director Sonny Barrios said Justin Brownlee's naturalization process was about to take its first major step, with the Barangay Ginebra import set to make an appearance in front of the Committee on Justice of the House of Representatives. Assuming he passes this interview, the next stop would be a similar appearance before the Philippine Senate. The time between both appearances could take anywhere between a few weeks and a few months, but the SBP has many allies in the Senate, so chances are looking good that Brownlee will be naturalized in time for the sixth window.
Barrios said Brownlee playing in February for Gilas is the SBP's main objective, particularly since the games will be held at the Philippine Arena in the final dry run of the three venues to be used in the FIBA World Cup. If Brownlee makes it, then Kouame won't be able to play.
However, there is a possibility that some amateur players will be tapped to be part of the Redeem Team that will seek to recapture the Southeast Asian Games gold medal in Cambodia in May. The Governors' Cup might still be underway at the time, and if Ginebra and Brownlee are still in the contention, then he and several other pros will be unavailable. Make no mistake, though, the SBP is hell-bent on sending the strongest possible team to Phnom Penh to erase the bitter memory of Hanoi, so it's likely the PBA and Japan B.League players will be given first priority.