NEWS of Larry Fonacier's pullout from the Gilas Pilipinas' pool has netizens concluding that Paul Lee has suddenly become a lock for the team bound for the Fiba World Cup in Spain and the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
From the four new additions to Gilas' 16-man pool, Lee is the most logical choice to step into the spot vacated by Fonacier, who on Wednesday took himself out of consideration for the two overseas tournaments citing an assortment of injuries.
Also, the six-foot Rain or Shine guard made quite a splash in his international debut for Gilas, becoming the leading scorer aside from providing the late-game heroics that enabled the national team to pull off an 80-79 win over host China in the battle for third place in the Fiba Asia Cup last week in Wuhan.
Aside from Lee, the other members of the pool not on the team that placed second to Iran in last year's Fiba Asia championships in Manila - and subsequently punched a ticket to the World Cup - are Jared Dillinger, Jay Washington, and Beau Belga.
From the four, it is obviously Lee who can fill Fonacier's shoes and at the same time bring a new dimension to Gilas' backcourt because of his ability to play the point guard position.
With Lee, Gilas coach Chot Reyes can also have the option to rest both Jimmy Alapag and LA Tenorio and go big with his backcourt.
After seeing the trend from the response of netizens after Fonacier's withdrawal, we tossed the question to Reyes: Is Lee now a cinch for Gilas' World Cup team?
"Nope," came the quick response from Reyes. "All it (Fonacier's pullout) does is open up one slot (for the World Cup and Asian Games)."
When we pointed out that the Rain or Shine guard is the more logical replacement for Fonacier over Dillinger, Washington, and Belga, the Gilas coach pointed out that there are no set positions in his team.
"If you noticed, I even started using Ranidel (De Ocampo) as a shooter in the Fiba Asia Cup," said Reyes, who nonetheless praised Lee's impressive outing in Wuhan.
"We won't deny that, maganda talaga nilaro ni Paul sa Fiba Asia Cup. But no one has a lock on a spot (in the World Cup team). And I'm being honest when I say that."
Reyes also ruled out adding another member to the pool, saying it is too late for that. Gilas leaves on Friday for a training camp in Miami, kicking off a rigorous run of training and tune-up games leading up to the World Cup set August 30 to September 14 in Spain.
"Masyadong madami ng hahabulin kung kukuha pa kami ng bago," said Reyes. "As it is, we're leaving tomorrow (for Miami), so I think it's too for that."
So when will we know who the Magic 12 will be for the World Cup, Reyes was asked.
"I'll be announcing it on the deadline for the submission of lineups for the World Cup," Reyes said. "Right now, we still have no idea when that would be."