Gilas Pilipinas Files: Going back to an old model — college standouts
by rick olivares
With a new system for qualification in place for the 2019 FIBA World Cup (two rounds of continental qualifying tournaments in a home and away format), the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas has brought back an old model — a team of collegiate stars to carry the national colors.
This was first used from 1980-86 under the Northern Consolidated Cement banner with the late American head coach Ron Jacobs at the helm. With the ascension of the SBP, then Executive Director Noli Eala revived the program under the name, Smart Gilas. That squad featured collegiate standouts Greg Slaughter, Chris Tiu, Mark Barroca, JVee Casio, Dylan Ababou, Rey Guevarra, RJ Jazul, Mac Baracael, Aldrech Ramos, Jason Ballesteros, and Ric Cawaling. Their naturalization candidate at that time was CJ Giles and they squad was coached by Serbian taskmaster Rajko Toroman. That team was together for four years before they gave way to an all-pro squad following the Philippines’ missing out for the London Olympic qualification.
"The best players of the Philippines are in the PBA and in the United States, they too are in the NBA. As much as possible, you want to field your best. In fact, it was just announced that Steph Curry and LaMarcus Aldridge will be skipping national team duty for the United States. Even France’s national players are skipping the qualifiers because of contract concerns. So you see, it is also more than a scheduling issue. You have to take into consideration rest and recovery from long seasons, injuries here and there, and even contract concerns,” bared Barrios.
“Frankly, it is a bigger and broader issue for the federation. Hindi sa kulang ng materyales, it’s a scheduling problem. You need the cooperation of everybody. For example, champions sa Seaba. Pagdating sa FIBA Asia biglang ibang materyales mo kasi hindi available yung players mo kasi the school leagues are going on."
Some of the former collegiate standouts included in the new program are Ateneo’s Kiefer Ravena and Von Pessumal, Far Eastern University’s Mike Tolomia, Roger Pogoy, Mac Belo, and Russel Escoto, Arellano University’s Jiovani Jalalon, University of Santo Tomas’ Kevin Ferrer, La Salle’s Arnold Van Opstal and Almond Vostros, National University’s Bobby Ray Parks, and Fil-Canadian Matthew Wright.
“The program, although not entirely new, was borne out of necessity,” explained current SBP ED Renauld ’Sonny’ Barriors. “The new calendar calls for a home and away format. If the initial plans push through, we may be participating in tournaments four times a year. Knowing the PBA and school calendars, it will be difficult to send our national team composed of PBA players all the time. So kailangan natin mag-develop ng bagong team. Paguusapan pa yung PBA participation."
Toroman’s collegiate standouts held their own but beating Asian powerhouses like Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, and China proved to be difficult because not only did they send squads that were taller but were older and more experienced. Eventually, Smart Gilas included pros Jimmy Alapag, Kelly Williams, Ranidel De Ocampo, and Asi Taulava with Marcus Douthit replacing Jamaal Sampson who took over briefly when Giles’ contract was not renewed.
There is no word yet on plans for future naturalized players.