Jalalon, Perez, Belo lead initial entries in Gilas cadets side to Fiba Asia Challenge Cup
Gilas cadets candidates gather at the Meralco Gym in a practice supervised by Josh Reyes. Photo from Instagram account of Marvin Espiritu

THE Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) has started its buildup for the new Fiba calendar on Monday, gathering 15 amateur standouts for the first practice of the Gilas Pilipinas side to the Fiba Asia Challenge Cup  at the Meralco Gym.

SBP deputy director for international affairs and Gilas team manager Butch Antonio bared that they are now in the process of forming a pool of 24 players for the tournament set from September 9 to 18 in Tehran, Iran.

"That's the focus now, we have to come up with a roster, may deadline na kasi tayo this month to submit the lineup list of 24 on August 9 and the final 12 lineup on August 25," Antonio said.

Antonio said they are still in the process of identifying the 24 pool members which they hope to complete over the next eight days.

The first day of practice was supervised by assistant coach Josh Reyes in the absence of TabBaldwin and attended by former Gilas cadets Roger Pogoy, Russelle Escoto, Mac Belo, Mike Tolomia, Von Pessumal, Almond Vosotros, Gio Jalalon, Ed Daquiaog and Kevin Ferrer.

Also part of the first training camp were new Gilas pool invitees CJ Perez, Cris Javier, Karl Brian Cruz, Jonathan Grey and Arvin Tolentino.

Kiefer Ravena, who is expected to lead the team, is in the US attending a training camp.

Also attending the training was Alaska star and former Gilas member Dondon Hontiveros, who gave a brief pep talk.

Since getting players from the collegiate and PBA ranks will be impossible for the Iran meet, Antonio bared that they are initially focusing on former collegiate stars from the UAAP and NCAA.

Among them are former Ateneo big man Alfonso Gotladera and ex-La Salle center Yutien Andrada. Arnold Van Opstal, expected to be the tallest in the team, has already committed to join the pool, but might be arriving in the country next week after attending to some family matters in Australia, Antonio said.

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Antonio bared that the Fiba Asia Challenge Cup is important since it will give the Top Five finishers an extra berth for their respective subzones in the Fiba Asia Cup, the new name of the Fiba Asia Championships, which will determine the 14 of the 16 qualifiers for the Fiba home and away qualifiers for the 2019 World Cup.

Asked if the all amateur cast of the Gilas is the new shape of the national team, Antonio was non-committal.

"I-section by section muna natin, the (Gilas) program will continue but with regards to where the players will come from, hindi pa muna natin masasagot," Antonio said.

"Maganda ngayon there’s more flexibility," added Antonio, who is still awaiting the result of negotiations between the SBP and the PBA regarding the commitment of the pro league to future campaigns of the national team.

Meanwhile, a source told SPIN.ph that the PBA board meeting last Thursday failed to discuss the Gilas Pilipinas program as some members of the board wanted to talk to SBP presidentiable Al Panlilio and Patrick Gregorio, who both missed the meeting because of important company matters.

Panlilio was represented by Meralco team manager Paolo Trillo while Smart Sports media head and TNT team manager Virgil Villavicencio sat in for Gregorio.

The SBP remains open to the possibility of utilizing players from the PBA, which has the best players in the country.

The Gilas cadets will return to practice on Thursday at a still to be announced venue.

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