THE Smart Gilas 2.0 program is looking long-term in its bid to lead the Philippines back to prominence in Asian and world basketball.
That’s the reason why this early the national team is in the process of recruiting the next batch of collegiate talent who will be implanted within the program via the cadet pool, team manager Butch Antonio said.
“The cadet pool is something we are currently discussing with (Smart) management. Because our idea is, if every three years, mga at least dalawang players lang ang nari-release sa PBA (draft), then at least, may feeder system tayo that could somewhat replace those who will turn pro,” Antonio said in a talk with Spin.ph.
“But again, MVP (Manny V. Pangilinan) is supporting the national team for the long haul, otherwise, he could have just pulled the plug after the Gilas program since it didn’t win the Asian medal,” added the team official who’s been with Gilas since 2009.
Though the original batch of Smart Gilas team has since been disbanded after all of them decided to turn pro, Antonio said they are now working towards building a more sustainable national basketball training program.
Antonio, who used to serve as head of basketball operations during the initial phase of the Gilas program three years ago, added the basketball program set by former ambassador and basketball project director Danding Cojuangco offers some valuable insights on how they are now running the national program.
“The NCC (Northern Consolidated Cement) team was a good way to pattern it. Kung di nga lang sila nabuwag, they would probably have stayed for the long haul, at di siguro agad sila nag-PBA,” observed Antonio.
Some of the members of the NCC program during the 80s include Allan Caidic, Samboy Lim, Hector Calma, Franz Pumaren, Yves Dignadice, Tonichu Yturri, Alfie Almario, Elmer Reyes, Pido Jarencio, and a young Jerry Codinera, who all blended well with naturalized players Dennis Still, Jeff Moore, and shooter Arthur “Chip” Engelland.
As part of its training, the NCC team competed in the PBA for two seasons, eventually winning the 1985 Reinforced Conference title.
That same national squad won the 1985 William Jones Cup in Taipei, and later ruled the Asian Basketball Confederation (now the FIBA Asia men’s championships) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in January 1986, all under the guidance of American coach Ron Jacobs.
Smart Gilas 2.0 assistant coach Jong Uichico, a member of the NCC team from 1982 to 1985, explained the success of the current basketball program hinges on the all-out support of everyone.
“Nuong time kasi namin, may cooperation ang mga school teams with the national team. Kaya kami nakakalaro sa labas kung may tournament,” recalled Uichico, who called the shots for the all-PBA national squad that placed fourth in the 2002 Busan Asian Games.
“Ngayon kasi, it’s really the system that make things difficult for players to represent the national team. Mas maganda sana, kahit na nasa PBA na ang mga players, kapag kailangan sila maglaro sa national team, i-prioritize nila, kasi para naman ito sa bansa,” he added.
Currently, Antonio said 10 of the country’s top college players have verbally agreed to be part of the cadet national training pool.
The pool will be bannered by the Ateneo “Mutt and Jeff” tandem of Greg Slaughter and Kiefer Ravena, Blue Eagle teammate Nico Salva, NCAA stars Jake Pascual of San Beda, San Sebastian’s Ronald Pascual and Ian Sangalang, and Far Eastern University’s top playmaker RR Garcia along with Garvo Lanete and Matt Ganuelas, who were part of the victorious Smart Gilas 2.0 team that ruled the Jones Cup last month in Taipei.