When the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) announced the appointment of Tim Cone as the new Gilas Pilipinas head coach on Monday they also revealed a pool of 12 players for the national team.
Cone has said that he does not like to form a large pool of players and would rather pick the 12 best players available and ride with that crew.
Not surprising was the fact that six of the players came from the Asian Games gold medal-winning team that Cone coached in October: Chris Newsome, Calvin Oftana, Scottie Thompson, CJ Perez, June Mar Fajardo, and if he is cleared by FIBA, Justin Brownlee as the naturalized player.
Getting all 12 Asian Games players back was not possible. Chris Ross is not FIBA-eligible. Kevin Alas is recovering from an ACL tear. Japeth Aguilar has announced his retirement from national team duties. Finally, with Brownlee taking the naturalized player slot, Ange Kouame had to be bumped off.
Additionally, Arvin Tolentino and Marcio Lassiter were left out, which opened up six slots. These went to Barangay Ginebra's Jamie Malonzo, Japan B.League imports Carl Tamayo, AJ Edu, Kai Sotto and Dwight Ramos, and UAAP MVP Kevin Quiambao.
Guards: Thompson, Newsome, Perez
Wings: Ramos, Malonzo, Brownlee, Oftana, Quiambao
Bigs: Tamayo, Fajardo, Edu, Sotto
Tamayo and Quiambao can both be classified both as wings and bigs. Tamayo played the small forward position at times in Japan, while Quiambao was at times a big man for La Salle.
There are a couple of red flags, though. Edu suffered a torn meniscus on Nov. 12 and hasn't seen action since for the Toyama Grousers. Malonzo left Sunday night's Ginebra-San Miguel Beermen PBA Commissioner's Cup semifinal game with what Cone called a knee injury and was brought to St. Luke's Medical Center for further testing. The status of both will be one closely-monitored subplot.
Also worth noting is that Fajardo and Perez will be playing in the Commissioner's Cup Finals, which begins either Feb. 4 or Feb. 7 and could stretch up to Feb. 18 -- just four days before Gilas' away game against Hong Kong in the first window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2025 qualifiers.
Good mix of youth and experience
One third of the players were born this century: Edu (2000), Tamayo (2001), Quiambao (2001) and Sotto (2002). All four starred for Gilas Youth in FIBA's U19 tournaments. Three others younger than 30: Malonzo (1996), Ramos (1998), and Oftana (1998).
Of the four local veterans, Fajardo, Thompson, and Perez have all played in the FIBA World Cup, while Newsome was the last cut for the 2023 World Cup team and played in the Asian Games.
If he gets to play, Brownlee is the perfect fit for a Cone-coached team. He more than showed his value in international play in the Asian Games semifinals against China.
The team has good ball-handlers and playmakers in Ramos, Newsome, and Thompson. Perez is instant offense, the quickest on this team and also the best shot-creator outside of Brownlee. Ramos and Oftana are the best shooters.
Malonzo is the athletic wing who can take it to the hole and knock it down from the outside. It will be very interesting to see how Quiambao, the country's best college player and fresh off an impressive stint with Strong Group Athletics in Dubai, performs in his return to the Gilas senior level after limited stints a few years ago.
The frontline rotation looks intriguing. Fajardo is the best post-up player of this bunch. Edu showed his massive potential in the World Cup, where he was sometimes the best Gilas big on the floor. Sotto will always be useful as a 7-foot-3 slotman with an outside shot. Finally, Tamayo has slimmed down and, at 6-8, is a good option at the 3 and 4 spots.
Who was left out?
As loaded as this lineup is, it would have been good to see a few other PBA players get a chance to play.
Top of mind is Robert Bolick, who stood out in the 2019 World Cup but has played in just two FIBA games since then after tearing his ACL in late 2019. Converge FiberXers big man Justin Arana, though a bit undersized for international play, would be fun to watch. Would Rain or Shine Elasto Painters point guard Andrei Caracut's newfound confidence translate to success in international play?
Among the youngsters, perhaps somewhere down the line those with previous senior level experience like Ateneo Blue Eagles' Mason Amos or UP Fighting Maroons' Francis Lopez can get another chance. And once they're healthy again, it would be great to see Rhenz Abando and Jerom Lastimosa suit up.
And if one were to nitpick, perhaps this team could use one more pure shooter to open up the defense. Perhaps a Matthew Wright or a Javi Gomez de Liaño? Or even Lassiter, who looked reborn in the series against Ginebra.
Overall, though, there's not much you can complain about this roster. They have experience, youth, and, most importantly given the tight schedule, familiarity with each other and with Cone's system. Their games against Hong Kong and Chinese Taipei in late February should be must-see TV.