Even Giannis Antetokounmpo would probably agree that anything less than regaining the gold medal will be viewed as a failure. That’s the kind of pressure Gilas Pilipinas is facing in the 32nd edition of the Southeast Asian Games. Nonetheless, the redemption-seeking Filipino contingent has no choice but to take the challenge head on.
Gilas might be just be armed with enough weapons to thwart the threats lying ahead, anyway.
Threat no. 1: Unavailability of the top guys
Due to injuries, fatigue, and family matters, the national team’s lineup won’t be at its absolute best for the biennial event. June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, and RR Pogoy being out of commission is already a telling blow. The likelihood of reigning MVP Scottie Thompson begging off just compounds the problematic circumstance.
Weapon against threat no. 1: Super subs
GOAT PBA import nominee Justin Brownlee is expected to be the team’s naturalized player. And likely to help him out is his Ginebra teammate and two-time PBA Best Player of the Conference awardee Christian Standhardinger.
As reported by veteran sports journalist Quinito Henson, Gilas currently has a 15-man pool that is undergoing a four-day intensive training leading into the tournament.
The options are right there. Surrounding the two Ginebra stars with scrappy defenders, willing role players, and capable bucket-getters is doable.
Threat no. 2: Lack of prep time
The Gilas lineup headed to SEA Games will definitely look different from the ones that competed in the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, which ran for 15 months starting in November of 2021. Put simply, a new-look squad with less than a month of training for a high-stakes event is definitely not what the doctor, or the coach, had ordered.
Weapon against threat no. 2: Exuberance to serve the country
The Filipino cagers who answered the call have fully embraced the responsibility of bringing the trophy back home. JB wouldn't have had a busted lip in practice for nothing. The hope now is that the burning desire being displayed by Gilas’ new designated gunners would be enough to make up for lost time.
Imagine if Justin Noypi would bring this same fire to Phnom Penh.
Threat no. 3: Indonesia and other formidable foes
Indonesia snapped the Philippines’ 33-year reign of basketball supremacy in the SEA Games last year. Realizing that they’d be a target being the new champs, the Indonesians might field an even stronger lineup this year. Vietnam and Thailand will probably copy the gold medalist’s winning formula by bringing in heavy reinforcements as well.
Weapon against threat no. 3: Thirst for vengeance
After more than three decades on top, the Filipino hoopers were doomed to slip up. Perhaps it was just the inadequate sense of urgency that prevented coach Chot Reyes’ wards from beating Indonesia. It was a close contest all the way, let’s not forget.
With that in mind, Gilas is heading into to the regional meet more motivated than ever. This group might just accomplish its mission through sheer grit and determination.
That said, Gilas’ approach has to remain strategic as the tournament format has been changed. Instead of the usual single round-robin, the participating teams will be divided into two brackets. The top two finishers from each side will make it into the crossover semis. And of course, the winners of that will battle for the gold medal.