Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes initially planned on spreading his 15-man pool in the 2023 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers’ Quezon City window.
But after Korea pulled out, it threw a monkey wrench to his plans.
“I was really looking to play all 15 in the four games; to find even just a few minutes for several guys who’ve never had the opportunity to play in an actual FIBA game,” said Reyes. “But now that’s a problem.
“With four games, I was very confident and had a pretty good idea on how to play all 15 in the roster. Now, with two games, admittedly that’s going to be a problem.”
On Saturday night, Reyes made a tough decision.
Gab Banal and Lebron Lopez were the final cuts. But unlike Lopez, Banal has yet to make an international appearance.
The 6-foot-3 gunner has no qualms about it, though, saying that it’s something that is beyond his and Reyes’ control.
“I was really looking forward to this window, but unfortunately Korea backed out,” he lamented. “So that’s two games. Coach Chot told us that he had plans for rotation for four games, but it was cut down to two. So the original plans could not stick.
“Unfortunate events, but I’m still grateful that I’m here, that I still get to be with these guys, cheer them on, and still be in the final 15, having a chance to be in the lineup. Unfortunate events, though, happened like Korea being sick and two games being cancelled.”
For the MPBL Datu Cup MVP, it’s still an honor to be part of the pool.
After all, at 31-year-old, even he did not expect to be part of an elite group.
Looking back, Banal shared that he joined the pool with no expectations. He knew that there was a chance that he would not be part of the lineup.
“Because it’s every Filipino athlete’s dream to represent their own country. And never in my wildest dream did I imagine to represent the Philippines, especially playing for Gilas,” he said. “I was just a fan before, supporting the team. Now, I’m given a chance to join the final 15 without a guarantee of being in the lineup.
“Just experiencing how it is to play internationally with FIBA rules and referees… It’s representing the Philippines. I can’t say no to that.”
After this window, Gilas’ schedule only gets tighter.
There’s the Southeast Asian Games, the third window of the Qualifiers, the Asia Cup proper, and the Asian Games.
Most likely, Banal will again receive a call-up to the pool in one of those tournaments.
And he is looking to remain ready.
“Definitely, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, especially the SEA Games coming up. If they need me, I’ll always say yes. It’s representing the country. Who can say no to that? If they need my service, I’ll be there.”