PLANS are in place for Gilas Pilipinas program for the long-term after the game against Indonesia this Sunday in the first window of the 2021 Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers.
That's the assurance given by Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) program director Tab Baldwin, who pointed out that the main goal is to have a Philippine team ready to contend in the 2023 Fiba World Cup and beyond.
"There have been plans from the beginning regarding these players," said Baldwin of the five players from the Gilas draft - Isaac Go, Allyn Bulanadi, Rey Suerte, and twins Mike and Matt Nieto - and late additions Thirdy Ravena and Jaydee Tungcab.
"So as soon as the first window finishes, these players will go into a full-time training regimen, part of which will be here in the Philippines and part of which will be, at this point, planned for the US."
"And we'll go into more detail on that after the first window," he added.
Eyebrows were raised when only two players from the special Gilas round of the 2019 PBA Rookie Draft, namely Go and Nieto, were included in the Final 12 along with Ravena. Suerte and Tungcab were shortlisted in the reserves.
To some, the move almost makes the special Gilas round irrelevant.
Although it seems like the Philippines had to rush for this February window, Baldwin insisted the new Gilas program is just right on schedule.
"We never envisioned that in the first year and the first windows that we would have a full team that had been amateurs a few weeks ago and are, all of a sudden, full-time professionals and capable of competing favorably against professional national teams, whether they be from Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea or Australia, New Zealand," he said.
"These young players need a lot of work. They need a lot of blooding in international competition, which isn't at the highest level. They need a lot of coaching. And they need time. But it's exciting to be able to give them, some of them, some opportunities now in this window and we'll see how they go. We really want to rotate these players' exposure in and accelerate their development as fast as we can."
Baldwin gave a glimpse on what the SBP has in store for the group.
"They will go over as a group and train together in the US with our coaches, and certainly coach Alex (Compton) will be involved in that with some, at this point, American coaches. Hopefully, we'll be bringing in a European coach to be part of this because we want them to get that breadth of exposure to the worlds of basketball," he said.
"And then later in the year, we're planning a tour for them. It will be exclusive to them, those seven and whoever players we need to bring in to make up a playing roster, at least to get up to 10 players, and we're planning a tour to go down to Australia and play about, what we hope, to be about eight games."
"All of this is still on the drawing board, but certainly immediately after the first window, you will see these players, they get a very, very short break, probably a matter of days, and then they will be in full-time Gilas training and this will be designed for international basketball."
Like what Baldwin previously mentioned, he expects the Gilas pool to grow bigger as the years go, primarily through future special Gilas rounds in the next PBA Rookie Drafts.
"These are the first cadets, if you will, to build for 2023. And they will be in full-time training from now until 2023, as long as they're part of the program. They will be joined by players from the next draft or any players that fall through the cracks, for whatever reason, and we think they have international potential in the interim periods," he said.
Current pool members like Dwight Ramos, who made the cut, as well as brothers Juan and Javi Gomez de Liano, and Dave Ildefonso sure come to mind as potential future members of that national team pool.
Baldwin also expects a number of young Filipino talents, without any commitments to a school or a club, being recruited to play for flag and country.
"We're gonna have to find players that either get out of their commitments for whatever reason, or have no commitment. And that opens up the world to us," he said. "They may have commitments elsewhere, but it wouldn't preclude us from going after them and making an appeal.
"So what are the potential? The potential we could see is a 17-year-old come in that that's playing and finishing up in high school in the States and instead of going to an NCAA or UAAP team, that they could potentially come straight to Gilas. There are scenarios to which this pool could grow other than the draft."
But time, as Baldwin noted, is still in the Philippines' favor as he's not in a rush to secure any commitments from anybody other that the seven he currently has.
"You know, the 2023 (Fiba World Cup) is our endgame. So we're not desperate for decisions right now. And certainly, the minute that they become available for the draft and are drafted, they would be in strong consideration for our pool," he said.
"One way or another, those players that are coming out of the amateur ranks will have a good crack at it, for sure, if we think they have the potential."