GILAS Pilipinas assistant coach Jong Uichico said the absence of a natural big man in his Southeast Asian Games-bound team is a cause for concern.
Their narrow win over Ateneo, 86-79, in Gilas’ first tune-up on Tuesday magnified that weakness, but Uichico insisted the team will have to make the most out of their build-up for the Kuala Lumpur Games as they wait for Christian Standhardinger to rejoin the team after the Fiba Asia Cup.
"We lacked big men so it's hard to play without a big man. But these are the players that we will bring to the Southeast Asian Games. We will just try to maximize our strengths, see, and make up for our deficiencies," said Uichico, tasked to handle the squad with Chot Reyes calling the shots in the Fiba Asia Cup.
Standhardinger joined the Gilas squad set for battle in the Fiba Asia Cup in Beirut, and could even miss the first game against Thailand in the SEA Games should the Philippine team go deep in the Lebanon showpiece.
Uichico, though, is not worried as he expects Standhardinger to join them in Malaysia. But he admitted integrating the Fil-German big man into the team won't be easy.
"Hahabol," said Uichico, referring to Standhardinger. "So that means we are preparing without him, especially if he will play 30 minutes. Buti if he is a five-minute, 10-minute player.”
"I'm just running coach Chot's system but still, there are other things that he should learn also in terms of playing in the Southeast Asian Games," he added.
Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin also noticed the glaring weakness of the young Gilas squad with no legitimate big man in the paint, something SEAG opponents could take advantage of should Standhardinger miss more than one game due to fatigue or injury.
"Obviously, the one that jumps out is that they don't have a center," Baldwin said. "They are lacking of big men and we (Blue Eagles) are not that kind of team that can exploit that. That's not our strength either."
"I don't know if Standhardinger will come back and join them but I think that will probably be pretty important to them. I think he is going to do double-duty so he needs to stay healthy. Playing two tournaments back-to-back isn't easy either. I don't know what else they can do," the former Gilas coach added.
Baldwin, however, sees a lot of potential in the team with heady guard Baser Amer and versatile big man Troy Rosario joining Kiefer Ravena, Bobby Ray Parks, Kobe Paras, Kevin Ferrer, Carl Bryan Cruz, Raymar Jose, Von Pessumal, Mike Tolomia, and Almond Vosotros.
"They've got good guards, they have good leadership, but I think they need more time together. They need to settle down and become a team. Baser just joined the team. Troy has just joined them. It's obviously important for them to get that talent and leadership out there, have as much time as they can get, get together as many games as they can is important to them. But they need some interior strength," said Baldwin.
Uichico said their focus in training is on their speed, conditioning and rebounding to compensate for the team’s lack in size.
"Wala tayong magawa. Just hard work, box out, maliit tayo, rebound. Kung mabilis tayo, takbo. Kailangan maganda depensa namin. We don't have the firepower to score at a given time, at a given game," Uichico said.
Baldwin, though, remained optimistic about the SEAG-bound team’s chances despite their deficiencies, especially with his experience in coaching some of the players in the roster.
"I like these players a lot. I've coached a lot of those players. There are some talented players there. They are competitive guys. This team is not going to back down from everybody,” he said.
"Thailand will be tough, and Indonesia will be tough. Who knows who else? But the zone is changing. The zone is maturing. I know that we want to send our best players, and we always have to bow to the political landscape here. And that's what Gilas will continue to do. So, these guys will go and compete hard," Baldwin added.