THIS is one situation when Gilas Pilipinas needs all the ‘Puso’ it can summon.
With only two of the suspended players eligible to return to active duty early in the second round of the FIBA World Cup qualifiers, Gilas risks falling out of contention for a place in the 2019 showpiece to be held in China.
Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) president Al Panlilio admitted Gilas faces an uphill climb in its bid to return to basketball’s biggest stage as suspensions for the brawl against Australia will force the Philippines to field an entirely revamped roster when action in the qualifiers resumes in September.
Only June Mar Fajardo, Gabe Norwood, Baser Amer, and Allein Maliksi were left from the team following the sanctions announced by Fiba on Thursday suspending a total of 10 Gilas players and two coaches for their roles in the brawl that marred the team’s game against Australia last July 2.
“This was a chosen pool and this is your top team. Obviously, we have a lot of talent still, but this team has been together for quite some time, which is very important,” said Panlilio.
Twelve teams qualified for the second round that is made up of three windows to be played in September, November, and February. The teams carried over their win-loss records from the first round.
The Philippines is bracketed in Group F where it currently stands at third place with a 4-2 record behind leaders Australia and Iran, both with 5-1 cards. Also in the group are Kazakhstan (3-3), Japan (2-4), and Qatar (2-4).
Group E meanwhile, consists of New Zealand, Lebanon, and Jordan, all with 5-1 marks, followed by South Korea (4-2), China (3-3), and Syria (2-4).
The top three teams from each group, along with the team with the best record at No. 4, will all qualify for the 2019 Fiba World Cup in China.
Gilas Pilipinas will play a total of six games in the second round, including three at home, the first against Qatar on Sept. 17 to be played behind closed doors as part of the Fiba sanction. The team opens its campaign at Iran on Sept. 13.
Calvin Abueva will no longer be able to play in the entire second round since he got the most number of suspension with six games.
Suspended for five games were Roger Pogoy, Carl Bryan Cruz, and Jio Jalalon, meaning they won’t be able to return and play until Gilas' final game in the round against Kazakhstan in late February next year.
Andray Blatche, Terrence Romeo, Jayson Castro, and Troy Rosario were given three-game suspensions and their availability could only come in the latter part of the second window when the team faces Iran in December.
Japeth Aguilar and Matthew Wright, along with coach Chot Reyes will only be missing the team’s encounter against Iran this September after each receiving a one-game suspension.
“We’ll just try our best to deal with the cards that’s been dealt to us,” admitted Panlilio.
Everything is not yet lost, though.
The SBP has already coordinated with the PBA on possible tapping players outside of the regular 24-man Gilas training pool and will sit down with the coaching staff on the possible lineup it needs to assemble for the crucial second round.
“We just have to begin to fight and think,” Panlilio said. “We can’t give up. We just have to compete.”