The Under-18 to 19 age group has been the division Philippine basketball has been struggling with.
In the Asian level, the Boys’ National Basketball Team has one gold six times, silver twice, and bronze thrice. But all of the medals came from 1970 to 1992. Moreover, the Philippines has only qualified once in the Under-19 World Cup.
With four slots in the 2019 FIBA Under-19 World Cup at stake, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas is set to field the tallest-ever team possible.
Seven-foot-1 Kai Sotto, 6-foot-11 AJ Edu, 6-foot-8 Geo Chiu, and 6-foot-7 Raven Cortez will compose the frontline of the youth team to lift the average height of the Philippine squad to 6-foot-4 — two inches taller than the last Philippine U-18 squad that competed in the 2016 edition of the tourney.
But even with height to compete with Asia’s tallest teams, what the team lacks right now is experience.
“How you use the size and play well in the size is the key. But a lot of Philippine teams have beaten giants in the past. So now for a change, we can match up a little bit,” shared coach Josh Reyes during the Chooks-to-Go-hosted send-off dinner for the team. “If you look at teams on paper, we are raving about the size off this team, but if you look at it objectively our average height is six-foot-four, china’s average height is six-foot-six. We are still going up against bigger opponents.
“The pressure is how we play well together, how we perform there, how we play as a team despite the limited time we have in preparing.”
Compared to some of the topflight teams in the continent, Batang Gilas was not afforded a chance to figure in tune-ups against their peers. Instead, they had to settle in facing some of the top collegiate squads in the country.
What will work for the young Filipinos is that Sotto, Cortez, Chiu, and Gerry Abadiano are fresh off the team’s campaign in the Under-17 World Cup while Dalph Panopio and AJ Edu already have a wealth of experience under their belt.
Come tip-off, Reyes expects the team to go all out with the goal of ending the country’s 40-year World Cup drought.
“We just go about our business and prep the right way — by giving your full commitment and your time and focus to this team and be there for each other, yun lang. It’s hard to have external forces determine your motivation. As young as this team is, we try to be self-motivated because we’re playing for a cause that’s bigger than all of us.”