Ravena, Bolick, Perez and even Sotto. These were names who were already considered as locks in the 23 man pool that was being crafted for Gilas’ 2023 World Cup run, which will be hosted by the Philippines. Other than the givens, there were also names that surprised some such as Abu Tratter and even Paul Desiderio.
But with Filipinos, rarely does it matter who makes the cut. What is more glaring for many are those who were snubbed out of these lists released by the Gilas Pilipinas Coaching Staff. Pinoy fans love to play coach (read: #MAMARU), so they try to sneak in their favorite players into the list, and try their best to justify why this player deserves a shot.
So let’s play some #MAMARU and name some players who could be considered as well for Gilas 2023
1. Ricci Rivero, DLSU Green Archers, SG/SF
Arguably the biggest snub for many, Ricci Rivero deserves a place in the Gilas pool, no doubt about it. He’s easily one of the most talented players in the country, possessing other worldly athleticism, grace, and body control. He’s an elite athlete with physical tools fit for the modern game, and with a skill set that will only get better, God knows how good Ricci will be in five years time. Maybe he bulks up and becomes a big, athletic wing like Jimmy Butler. Or better yet, he embraces the Babes Bolick route and tries to play as an initiator capable of setting is teammates up. Talent alone, Ricci Rivero deserves some love in Gilas.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was written before Coach Chot Reyes clarified that the DLSU Green Archers are in transition and requested their active players to be excluded from the 2023 Gilas Pool for now.)
2. SJ Belangel, Ateneo Blue Eaglets, PG
If you’re looking for a guard who is pass-first but can also take over at any given time, SJ Belangel is your guy.
Not only does Belangel have talent and the frame to already battle it out in the Seniors’ Division, but what’s more impressive with SJ is his basketball IQ and terrific feel for the game. He’s an elite playmaker who doesn’t need the ball in his hands to make things easier for his teammates. Just getting to bark out instructions, setting whatever screens are necessary to make the play work already makes a world of difference for the Blue Eaglets. He’ll also gladly take over games, driving to the rim with ease, or pulling up from the free-throw line, Russell Westbrook style. Did I forget to mention that despite being a highly-touted recruit, he’s more than willing to dive for loose balls?
#PUSO blended with smarts, that’s what SJ Belangel exactly is. He’s a point guard who’s more than capable of running whatever system his coach asks him to, and he would fit right in with Gilas.
3. Santi Santillan, DLSU Green Archers, F
Santi Santillan was probably the most underrated player during UAAP Season 80. Everyone talked about Ben Mbala and Ricci Rivero when it came to the Green Archers, but Santillan’s contributions were just as valuable for La Salle.
He may not produce the same amount of highlights and gaudy numbers as the two names mentioned above. He’s the perfect system player, which isn’t a bad thing, mind you. It just means, he’s malleable. He can be plugged into any scheme, and do whatever work is necessary. That speaks of not just his skill level, but his Basketball IQ and attitude as well. Very little players with the same amount of talent as Santi are willing to give up their bodies just to grab rebounds and pass it off to an Aljun Melecio who will pull-up in an instant. But Santi does it by maximizing his physical tools, rebounding instincts and motor.
4. John Lloyd Clemente, last with the NU Bullpups, G
Sometimes with Gilas, you just need players who can do the little things. The Kiefer Ravenas, Kai Sottos and the Jayson Castros are cool, but the likes of Jeff Chan and Troy Rosario are just as valuable to the chances of the National Team. Santi is one such player, with his motor and his penchant for rebounding. Another is John Lloyd Clemente, who was hyped for the longest time as the most college ready player in High School Basketball.
There is still an argument to be made that Clemente is such, even though he hasn’t suited up in any of the big leagues due to issues with eligibility. To give you a refresher, Clemente has the size of college power forward, but plays as a no-frills wing. His game is the epitome of basic. Curl around screens, catch the ball, put in the basket like James Naismith wanted it to. He’ll have the occasional post-up or even a drive, but at the very heart of it, Clemente is a 3 and D wing, who is best paired with great talent. There will be no shortage of talent around Gilas, thus making Clemente’s game perfect internationally.
Let’s not force John Lloyd to be what he isn’t (read: isolation player). The Bullpups last year lost because JLC was thrust into such a role because of the lack of developed talent. He’s an off-ball menace all the way, and he’s very good at doing just that.
5. Raven Cortez, DLSZ Junior Archers, PF/C
Cortez is in this list mostly because of potential. If we’re to base it off how he plays right now, he wouldn’t even come close to making it beside the likes of SJ and John Lloyd. But, his potential is tantalizing, and he’s shown some flashes as a player for Batang Gilas and the Junior Archers.
Right now, he’s playing similarly to Nonoy Baclao. Blocks plenty of shots with his long wingspan and terrific timing, while getting easy baskets off put-backs and the occasional jumper. He could be a lock in the PBA if developed correctly. But let’s have some fun and reach for the sky with regards to Cortez. He has the fluidity and the speed of a wing, so why not develop him as such? He moves quite similarly to Jason Credo, who plays as somewhat of a point forward for the Ateneo Blue Eaglets. The only difference is, Credo is more skilled with wing skills. So why not put Credo instead right? Well, Cortez is taller, and you can’t teach height. On the other hand, you can put the ball in Cortez’s hands and teach him how to be a wing. At the tender age of 16, it isn’t too late to do just that.