SEVEN is the current count of Gilas Pilipinas pool members, but don't rule out the pool from expanding -- or even getting taller.
Gilas Youth standouts Kai Sotto and AJ Edu, as well as 16-year-old Sage Tolentino are the ones who Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) president Al Panlilio identified as future additions to the national team pool.
The 7-foot-2 Sotto, a former UAAP Juniors MVP, is currently training in Atlanta with The Skills Factory.
Edu, who stands at 6-foot-10, is on the recovery road from an ACL injury incurred from the 2019 Fiba Under-19 World Cup and is suiting up for University of Toledo.
Tolentino is the most intriguing of all, with the 7-foot center currently playing for Maryknoll High in Hawaii.
"We reached out to him to see his interest. Imagine if you have him and Kai, when was the last time we had two Filipinos over seven-feet in one team," said Panlilio.
He also didn't rule out including the names of Kobe Paras and brothers Juan and Javi Gomez de Liano as the SBP looks to expand the pool in the future.
"There's a big list of course on who we can potentially add to the future. Talk about Kobe and the Gomez de Liano brothers: these are names that can be part of the pool moving forward," he said.
That, however, is still in the pipeline.
As of now, the Gilas pool currently has special Gilas draftees Isaac Go, Rey Suerte, Allyn Bulanadi, and twins Matt and Mike Nieto, as well as late additions Thirdy Ravena and Jaydee Tungcab.
Panlilio bared that those players are expected to suit up in the first window of the 2021 Fiba Asia Cup this February, with the Philippines playing on the road against Thailand on February 20 before hosting Indonesia on February 23.
"We'll definitely use the draftees," he said, with the team expected to be filled up with current PBA players. "We'll augment it first with the PBA players, at least for the February window."
Panlilio did acknowledge that the lending of PBA players is only a stopgap solution, with the SBP looking to parade a full-time national team ready to hoist the country's flag in the 2023 Fiba World Cup.
"We have to develop players eh. Preparation time won't be there kasi tumatakbo pa yung tournament. Two weeks lang nabigay kay Tim Cone, two weeks lang after the semis niya nakuha yung team. Hindi na pwede yung ganoon. We saw the weakness of that formula already," he said.
"That's why we are saying that we have to build a dedicated team for 2023. The SBP is now given the opportunity to increase the pool every year, draft players, add players and the SBP will decide with the team moving forward."
"It's about continuity, of players playing together, competing, exposing themselves in international competition, and hoping they become better for the national team. The objective of the national team is we can show development, that we'll be better than the last time. Hopefully with the continued support of the PBA, we can develop the team that can prepare us for 2023."
Realistically speaking, Panlilio acknowledged that it's inevitable that the Gilas Pilipinas program will still have to ask for a few players from the PBA for the global hoops tilt three years from now.
The idea, though, is to have a ready core, cohesive enough to compete with the world's best with a few sprinklings of the best the pro league has to offer.
"In 2023, do we augment PBA players? Maybe yes, maybe two, three players will be critical, but that's one of the options," he said.
"In 2023, that doesn't mean na we won't tap PBA players. Maybe we will, two or three names. How can you not consider a June Mar Fajardo? That time, 33 pa lang siya and that's the peak of his career. How could you not consider a multiple-time MVP of this league? Again, I'm not a coach but from a concept point of view, you have to consider players like that."
"It's really a journey towards 2023, but we want to start it right now. It gives us three years, but we have to start somewhere."