SBP set to announce PBA-reinforced Gilas pool next week

The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) is now in the process of drafting a list of PBA players that it will include in the Gilas Pilipinas pool for the third window of the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers to be held in Clark, Pampanga this February.

In a joint virtual press conference along with the PBA, the Clark Development Corporation (CDC), and the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), SBP president Al S. Panlilio said the federation is looking to submit the names to commissioner Willie Marcial next week.

"The ball is actually in my court. I need to work with coach Tab Baldwin on the list and get back to commissioner Willie next week," said Panlilio.

With the PBA season not set to start until April 2021, the SBP president said it could afford to play some of the young men that swept Thailand in the second window in Bahrain last November alongside some veterans and mainstays against South Korea on Feb. 18 and 22 and Indonesia on Feb. 20.

"We want to continue the development of these young players. But in the window, since the PBA will be on a break, we'll likely bring some PBA players, especially since this seems to be a very tough window for us. We have games against Korea and a much-improved Indonesia," he explained.

A training bubble will be held again in the Inspire Sports Academy, where PBA stars can compete for roster spots alongside their younger counterparts in January.

Against Indonesia, whom Gilas beat last February in the first window, and the Koreans, Panlilio said this is a first of many opportunities the national team can gain cohesion with a mix of amateurs and professionals in preparation for the 2023 World Cup.

"It's not just for this window, it's really more of a developmental program for SBP as you know," he said. "Our vision is 2023. But we want to use these events to develop young players and bring in the veterans and have games where they play together so we'd become a better team down the road."

IN TERMS OF hosting the third window, Panlilio said the entire PBA bubble setup will be replicated by the SBP when the country hosts the final window in Clark.

"The expectation is whatever we had as a setup in the PBA bubble remains to be what it is, unless it is an improvement," he shared.

"When FIBA asked us if we could host it like the PBA bubble, they were looking at the arrangement of the PBA bubble as is. The understanding is we will host under the exact conditions and facilities that we used within the PBA bubble," added executive director Sonny Barrios.

Panlilio added that it was really the PBA bubble's success that really landed the Philippines the hosting job for the third window.

"Because of the PBA bubble's success, it really paved the way for us at SBP to really work with FIBA and offer the same Clark bubble to a FIBA competition in February," he shared. "What interested FIBA in taking a look at this bubble was really our success in the PBA bubble, where health was really paramount."

The few enhancements that will be made inside the bubble are only to ensure a more comfortable experience for all eight teams from Groups A and C that will play on Feb. 18 to 22.

Aside from some upgrades to be made by Quest Hotel, which served as a home for two months to all 12 PBA teams, the SBP is also looking at adding meeting, changing and viewing rooms, as well as another practice facility, although Panlilio said it's feasible for the Angeles University Foundation (AUF) to host all team practices albeit in alternating schedules.

"In other countries, it's the same venues where practices are held. With only eight teams, I think we can do that. I think the PBA did that with 12 teams using just AUF as the venue. At the bare minimum, I think AUF will work, but we will discuss whether we need an extra facility," he said.

"We're combining learnings of both the PBA and our stint in Bahrain (in the second window)," said Barrios. "One modification is in the AUF, where we are looking at having a dedicated meeting room, changing room and viewing room for each of the eight teams. They won't have to interchange or wait for a changing room to be vacated."

A dedicated isolation facility will also be mounted again inside Clark in the event of a positive coronavirus disease (COVID-19) result. Back in November, the PBA opted to move from the Athlete's Village in New Clark City -- which was also being used by the province of Pampanga and Tarlac -- to Mt. Carmel Medical Center, which will most likely be the same facility set to be used in the third window.

"We realized that there should be a dedicated facility in the event that someone tests positive," said BCDA president Vince Dizon. "We decided in November to have a dedicated facility in Clark, and we will continue with that again for the future bubble in February."

Testing, naturally, will be of the highest importance, and better testing labs could also be looked at, said PBA deputy commissioner Eric Castro.

"The testing is very crucial," he said. "We could assign a testing lab. There's no perfect testing, but this time once we host the FIBA Asia Cup by February, we really need to have accurate testing."

That will be key in order to avoid a similar outcome of a couple of scares midway through the PBA bubble late October, when a couple of false positives marred the Philippine Cup schedule for a couple of days.

In order to put up a more secure bubble, the same stringent IATF protocols that were instituted after the false positives came out will be combined with that of FIBA's health standards.

"What we have done is the IATF instituted stricter protocols, over and above the protocols that were initially approved. I think that resulted in a stricter system of ensuring that we would not encounter the same problems. And as a result, after those two instances, the bubble ran smoothly until the end in the early part of December. We will continue with those strict protocols," said Dizon.

"FIBA has its own guidelines, and it will be married with that of the IATF. I'm sure it's still gonna be a very safe venue," added Panlilio.

Of course, part of those protocols include testing upon arrival for all parties coming from abroad regardless of any negative test result they might present upon entry to the Philippines.

"When we start the preparations with the SBP taking the lead, we will need to talk to each of the countries that have confirmed for the bubble in order to ensure that our protocols line up and are consistent," said Dizon. In terms of testing protocols, we need to follow what the existing IATF protocols are.

"Even if they already have results prior to arrival, they still need to get tested as soon as they arrive. They still need to wait for results in a designated isolation facility. We cannot make exceptions there. We will follow the standard testing and isolation protocols for all passengers from abroad."

FIBA, meanwhile, expressed gratitude over SBP's initiative to host two groups in February.

"We greatly appreciate the SBP approval for hosting Group C in the Philippines during Window 3 of FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers, besides hosting Group A," said Hagop Khajiran, FIBA's executive director for Asia. "SBP's positive and constructive stances whenever FIBA Asia is in need of your support are truly appreciated."