On Wednesday evening, Gilas Pilipinas enters the qualifiers for the Fiba Asia Cup at the Angeles University Foundation, holding the memories of the past in one hand and the bricks in the other.
The internationals face South Korea at 18, playing a team that in the past has been a source of torment, but also some flashes of happiness, especially in the games played here.
Leading the charge are 7-foot-and-3-year-old teenager Kai Sotto (see related story on this page) and next-generation 6-foot-10 Filipino Ange Kouame, the cornerstones of a massive frontline that national program has never enjoyed in previous campaigns.
He risks Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas by deploying Sotto, who only with the Gilas pool was able to record at least two days of training.
But none other than Tab Baldwin, the brains behind the 2023 World Cup program and the team’s returning coach, said Sotto is more than ready for action.
“Of course, we were worried about how much [his earlier training with us] he will stay with him, but the coaching staff were delighted to find that he has a great ability to withhold information, “Baldwin said.
“There is a solid knowledge base from his past experience with us that has helped him process the new information we’ve been introducing since then,” Baldwin added.
Below, for his part, is not one that makes a mole a mountain, even saying that if there is anything he is sure of, it is he who is absorbing things at a rapid pace.
“I really don’t find anything difficult to achieve or learn. I think one of my strengths is that I learn fast and am very quick to adapt, “he said on Monday.
“There will be parts of the game where we will only use systems where we have been able to indoctrinate it, but the coaching staff believe that the positives gained from its inclusion will far outweigh the negatives. We think he’s ready and he deserves it, “said Baldwin, who will parade a youth contingent against an equally young Korean side.
Gilas is aiming for that one victory needed to grab a spot in the Asian championship, scheduled to take place in Indonesia in August. But this week’s campaign is also an opportunity to future-proof the progress of the national cage program as it heads towards the 2023 World Cup.
Leading South Korea, which also remains unbeaten in Group A, are Lee Dae-sung and naturalized player Ra Gun-a – formerly Ricardo Ratliffe – who knows a thing or two about the Philippines, including Kouame.
“I played him (Kouame) in the Jones Cup,” said Ra, a one-time importer who served the Magnolia franchise in the Philippine Basketball Association. INQ
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