LEBRON Lopez' inclusion in the Gilas Pilipinas pool may raise some eyebrows, but Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) program director Tab Baldwin sees no reason why capable young players should be excluded from consideration.
"I think there's plenty of precedents around the world," he told Hoops Life.
Some of those who come to mind are Ricky Rubio, who played for Spain in the 2008 Beijing Olympics at age 17, and Anthony Davis, who represented USA in the 2012 London Olympics at 19 years old.
Baldwin need not look far. When he was still in New Zealand, a young player was immediately given a baptism of fire for flag and country.
"I think everybody will remember coach Mark Dickel who was here coaching TNT and even had a stint as the head coach of Gilas for one of the windows. Coach Mark Dickel made the national team in New Zealand when he was 18 years old. Why? Because he was ready," he recounted.
Dickel was playing for the Otago Nuggets in the semi-pro New Zealand National Basketball League (NZ NBL) when in 1994, at 18 years of age, was called up by the Tall Blacks. His pedigree was so evident that in 1995, he was named as both the Juniors and Seniors Player of the Year by Basketball New Zealand.
"I'm not saying he was in the pool - he made the squad. So there are examples of players that just have a level of maturity that allows them to not just compete at the elite level but also be productive at the elite level, and you don't know where these guys are gonna pop up."
Lopez finds himself in the same boat.
At 17, the 6-foot-5 high-flyer of the Ateneo Blue Eaglets is the youngest in the pool and is an intriguing prospect for the Gilas program in the long run.
"We like Lebron still for his future, but there's no better way to cultivate that future and speed up the process than having him here with the other elite players that we're working with. So my anticipation is not that Lebron is going to be featuring in Gilas at this time, but certainly we do anticipate that at some point and hopefully some point soon, it will," said Baldwin.
In hindsight, it's no different to the case of Kai Sotto, who at 18, is already primed to be the future of Philippine basketball.
That, to Baldwin, puts more responsibility for the Gilas program to be able to develop these young wards and prepare them for the future, no matter how early it may seem.
"Everybody has massive expectations of Lebron because he can dunk it. Well that's zero reason to have expectations of a basketball player and I mean zero. Just because a guy is taller and can dunk it means nothing in the game of basketball at the elite level. Because Kai is 7-foot-3, that means nothing," he said.
"What it does mean is you give them some attention to see what can be cultivated, and because of that and because of the players that they are and have become at this point in time, they deserve more than attention. They've earned a right to be included in the mix and then from there, it's just up to their continued development and how quickly they can make an impact."