Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes would be the first to admit that the game has changed since the last time he coached the Philippines in the FIBA Basketball World Cup back in 2014.
“I’m sure everyone understands the direction the game has taken. Now, it’s a lot more open,” the six-time PBA Coach of the Year told For Love: The Podcast.
“In 2014, we were playing small ball, with a seven-footer like Andray Blatche shooting three-point shots and bringing the ball. Now, every seven-footer is doing it. That one advantage we had 10 years ago is no longer there.
“The game has really evolved into what it is today. We used to be the team that played small ball, and now every team is playing small ball, but with 6-foot-8 guards and seven-footers. That’s what we have to find ways to manage because before, it was simple. We just said that it’s the style we play. Now, everyone plays the wide-open court, shoots threes, and moves the ball around—the way we used to play in 2014. So it’s incumbent upon us to find ways to neutralize it,” he continued.
Gone are the traditional bigs that would only play in the post. Now, bigs are either shooting threes or even setting up plays early in the shot clock.
Meanwhile, guards are now scoring in bunches as the game is more perimeter-oriented.
That is why, during the start of this cycle, then-Gilas head coach Tab Baldwin had a bevy of bigs he was converting into stretchers and creators.
There was 6-foot-7 big man Isaac Go and 6-foot-6 William Navarro, the former a knockdown shooter from deep, while the latter is a do-it-all utility player.
Then there were 6-foot-7 Carl Tamayo—a scorer from every angle on the floor—and 6-foot-9 Justine Baltazar, who was in a transition to become a full-time winger under Baldwin.
However, Go and Navarro are still recovering from their respective ACL injuries. On the other hand, Tamayo and Baltazar could not join the team, according to Reyes.
“Unfortunately, for the guys in your team Isaac, I would have loved to have you, I would have loved to have Carl and Justine Baltazar.
“Remember that group that you had, we would have loved for them to be here, but unfortunately, circumstances either of their own doing or not have prevented them from being here. But there are guys that we would have loved to be here,” he lamented.
Reyes went on to say that Tamayo, who is now in Okinawa to join the Golden Kings in their buildup for the upcoming B.League season, and Baltazar, who is currently playing for Pampanga in the MPBL, would have been shoo-ins for the team.
“I’m sure Carl and Justine would have had very big chances of making the final lineup if only they were around. Unfortunately, they were not. We just have to prepare and get the best from whoever is available and put the best team on the floor.”
The remaining bigs in the Gilas pool are now down to just four, namely Kai Sotto, June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, and AJ Edu.
Out of the quartet, it’s the 6-foot-10 Edu who has yet to have a seniors cap.
“AJ Edu is coming in cold into the senior team, but he’s had great experience in our youth teams because he was with Coach Josh. He already has a taste of playing the way we want to play. In that sense, he is not coming in really cold, but in this setting—in this kind of level, yes he is,” said Reyes.
“We are very happy and pleased with his development. The big setback we experienced was when he got injured in Australia on his way here; he was not able to play games with us in Europe. But he was with us in practices and all of our team-building stuff that we did. He had the opportunity to strengthen his ankle and rehab with our trainer, Coach Dex (Aseron). Just being with us every day, he knew that when he was a hundred percent, he would basically hit the ground running,” he continued.
“In the two tune-ups we had in Manila, he played really well. Hopefully, that trajectory continues. Of all the people here, we are really going to keep a very watchful eye on how AJ performs.”
Edu is one of the many players Gilas has that has international experience under his belt.
The likes of Sotto, Jordan Clarkson, Dwight Ramos, the Ravena bros, Bobby Ray Parks Jr., and Rhenz Abando are well-versed in the international style of play as they are plying their trades overseas.
Meanwhile, Fajardo, Aguilar, CJ Perez, and Roger Pogoy have already played in the World Cup.
That is why Reyes sees no problem with the ongoing trend of having Filipino players either play in the PBA or go pro overseas.
“I don’t think they are at odds with each other. I don’t think what we are doing is simply putting the best team on the floor. Sometimes, that means that we have to be a little bit more patient. Sometimes, we have to give the circumstances and the players some more leeway because, like I said, we can’t avoid those injuries,” he opined.
“The problem of globalization of our basketball today is that we used to only worry about UAAP, PBA, and NCAA schedules. Now, we have to worry about the B.League, the KBL, the NBA, and the Summer League. We have to take all of those things into consideration. I think that’s the bigger balancing act that we continue to perform here. But in terms of going with the veterans or building for the future, I don’t think there is any contradiction in that sense because what we are seeing now is simply checking who the best players available are.”
Come the group stages of the global meet, Gilas will be facing the Dominican Republic, Angola, and Italy.
Admittedly, those nations have “better” and taller athletes. That is why this batch of Gilas will rely on hard-nosed defense to stop them.
“It’s a fact that we are facing better and taller athletes with more international experience than we have. We are focusing on our ability to defend because, to be very honest, it will be very difficult for us to outscore other teams,” he said.
“We are going to count on our defense to slow those teams down.”