Return to original Gilas program signals end of PBA stars' participation in Fiba events
Gilas' campaign in the OQT may well be the farewell run of PBA stars in the national team program. On Monday, SBP head Manny V.Pangilinan announced the formation of a Gilas pool. Jerome Ascano

MANNY V. Pangilinan's surprise announcement that a plan is in place for a return to the original Gilas Pilipinas program has wide-ranging repercussions, not only on the national team but on the PBA as well.

Specifically, the participation of the PBA stars in the Gilas program and the pro league's rookie draft.

In essence, Pangilinan's announcement on Monday amounted to the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) returning to the original concept drawn up for Smart Gilas back in 2010 when a number of non-PBA players, led by Chris Tiu, Marcio Lassiter, and Chris Lutz, formed the national pool.

These players gave long-term commitments to the national team and represented the Philippines in international tournaments, coached by Rajko Toroman and often backstopped by a naturalized player and bolstered by a sprinkling of reinforcements from the PBA.

That changed in 2013, when the SBP and the PBA teamed up to form an all-pro team under Chot Reyes that finished runner-up to Iran in the Fiba Asia Championship which Manila hosted.

Despite an increasingly fragile relationship with the PBA, the SBP has stayed with that program through the 2014 Wold Cup in Spain, the 2015 Fiba Asia Championship in Changsha, China, and now the Olympic Qualifying Tournament which Manila will host from July 5-10.

However, Pangilinan's announcement all but signals the end of the PBA players' participation in the Gilas program as the SBP draws up a new pool of former and current college stars, led by Kiefer Ravena and Kevin Ferrer, with the revamped qualifying program of world governing body Fiba in mind. 

[See Original Gilas program revived

Asked if such is the case, SBP executive director Sonny Barrios said Pangilinan's decision to revert to the original Gilas program was a 'natural reaction' to Fiba's new qualification system for the 2019 World Cup in China.

Unlike in previous years when the Fiba Asia Championship served as the lone qualifier for the region, Fiba has merged the Asia Oceania zones (made up of Australia and New Zealand) under the new format that will see nations playing four home-and-away qualifiers during the course of the year instead of a single event.

That format, Barrios said, makes it improbable for the PBA to continue lending players to the Gilas national team program without disrupting its season calendar.

"The formation of the Gilas cadet pool is a natural, logical direction to undertake and consider undertaking for SBP in light of the new Fiba calendar," the former PBA commissioner told SPIN.ph on Monday.

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"Beginning in 2017, Gilas will have to play in four home-and-away tournaments where we know it will be difficult for SBP to rely on PBA players four times a year, simply because if will destroy its calendar."

Barrios explained the qualifiers will be held for 8-10 days for four times in a year and will demand more time from PBA stars if you put in the preparation time.

For the Olympic qualifiers alone, the PBA is taking almost a two-month break to allow Gilas to prepare under Tab Baldwin.

"Pinanganak yang (Gilas cadet) idea na 'yan because of the new Fiba format. Hindi na kadali para sa PBA na mag-supply ng players for these four home-and-away games," Barrios said.

"Speaking as a former PBA man, I cannot see how the PBA can disrupt the schedule four times in a year," he added. "Do you see the PBA giving up that much time?"

Even Team USA will have difficulty tapping NBA players for its teams under the new qualifying process, although Barrios conceded it's a lesser problem for the Americans since they have a deeper pool of players and are perennially world champions - and therefore seeded to the World Cup proper.

Although plans are still broad at this point, Barrios sees the new pool led by Ravena competing in all four home-and-away tournaments and PBA stars only being tapped - depending on arrangements and availability - in the event Gilas makes it to the World Cup or Olympics again.

"Kung may paglalaanan ang PBA, baka dun sa huli na lang 'yon."

Gilas team manager Butch Antonio said PBA stars may still be tapped to reinforce the soon-to-be-formed Gilas cadets pool, if available.

"Kung may mahiram ka, de okay," he said. "Kung wala, at least may team ka na."

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