PBA reiterates support for Gilas, but Olympic qualifier poses major scheduling problem
For Gilas to tap PBA players once again and prepare well for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in July, the pro league will have to cram its three-conference schedule to a seven-month season. Photo from Fiba.com

CHANGSHA, China – The PBA board has reiterated its support for Gilas Pilipinas and expressed willingness to adjust its season calendar for the national team, but the Fiba Olympic Qualifying Tournament next year is bound to once again test the already fragile relationship between the two organizations.

Gilas fell short of its first Fiba Asia championship since 1986 and an outright ticket to the 2016 Olympics following its 67-78 loss to host China on Saturday night, relegating the Philippines to an 18-nation, three-tournament qualifying phase that would complete the basketball roster in Rio de Janeiro.

However, the three Olympic qualifying tournaments are set to be staged from July 4-10, which would run smack into the PBA's 2016 season unless the pro league decides to significantly shorten its three-conference schedule.

On Saturday, both PBA president Chito Salud and chairman Robert Non of San Miguel said the board has already agreed to adjust the league's season to accommodate the Gilas program, saying they only need to be advised in advance by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) on a definite schedule.

“We’re ready to make a change. We just have to know ano ‘yung sked ngayon," said Non. "We’ve talked about it during the planning session. Hindi nga lang concrete, but we all hope for the best.”

[See If it fails to win Fiba Asia title, here's what awaits Gilas in Rio Olympic qualifying]

Last season, the PBA already crammed its three-conference season to be able to end in late August and make the players available for Gilas while giving the team enough time to prepare for the Changsha tournament.

If it once again decides to adjust the calendar next year, the PBA will have to settle for a seven-month season that ends in late May or early June, or at least two months early than last season, to accommodate Gilas' campaign in the final Olympic qualifiers.

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Salud and Non, who together with Commissioner Chito Narvasa and other board members flew in to support Gilas in this tournament, didn't sound worried about the looming fixture problem. 

The schedule of the Olympic qualifiers is also expected to pose a problem on the availability of naturalized player Andray Blatche, who is set to play in next season in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA).

But it's not all bad. Fil-American Jordan Clarkson of the Los Angeles Lakers could be available for Gilas for the July qualifiers under the schedule released for next season by the NBA.

[See In absence of full support from PBA owners, SBP mulls return to Gilas cadet program]

Both Salud and Non expressed satisfaction over the performance of the Gilas team.

“This experience opens up many permutations in the way we assemble, prepare, and pick players for future competition,” said Salud. “We can even go farther if we are able to prepare earlier with the right mix of players playing under a system for a good period of time.”

Non, for his part, was all praises for coach Tab Baldwin, who is only in his first year as Gilas mentor.

“It’s proven Tab is an international coach par excellence, magaling talaga, composed and he can motivate the players,” said the San Miguel board member. “Isang malaking bagay 'yun, that you have to be composed and motivator to be champion.”

Narvasa said the Gilas players should be treated as ‘heroes.’

“Coming to Changsha is no joke, different language, different people, different culture. Sacrifice talaga ang ginawa nila, being away from friends and families,” said Narvasa.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @gerardmos