He’s looks at ease playing against the best players in the world. The way he zooms past them is like a brush stroke. It’s a quick movement that ends with something so beautiful. In Castro’s case it’s a perfectly timed shot that his defender won’t be able to get to.
If there’s one takeaway from the first two games of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Qualifiers it’s this: Gilas Pilipinas needs Jayson Castro.
He’s the stabilizing force of Gilas. Whenever the team looked shaky against Japan or Chinese Taipei, Castro was there to steady the ship. He made the right plays at the right moment and steered Gilas to the win. Against Japan he hit a dagger three-pointer to close out the win. Versus Chinese Taipei, his and-one basket sparked a run that helped Gilas pull away.
But with the beauty of the Spolarium, there’s inherent tragedy, a reminder that life is finite. Watching Castro evokes the same feeling.
As good as he still is now, Castro’s time with the team is finite. His retirement after the 2016 Olympic Qualifying Tournament is a stinging reminder that at any point, the Blur can hang up his blue and whites.
Back in 2013, Gilas faced the same situation. The leader of the team, Jimmy Alapag was also nearing retirement. At that time, Alapag was revered in the Asian level. He joined Gilas for one final run in the 2014 World Cup and Asian Games but retired afterwards.
The difference back then was that Alapag was leaving Gilas in good hands. The foundation had been set for Jayson Castro to take over the reins of the team. Castro already established himself as the best point guard in Asia after the 2013 Asian Championship. At that point, Alapag was already giving way for the younger point guard. Gilas had the luxury of going through a smooth transition from the Mighty Mouse to the Blur.
That’s why Gilas needs to prepare for the eventual retirement of Castro. The transition from Castro to the next point guard of the team has to be just as smooth so that Gilas does not lose a step in the international level.
The attention now turns to the point guards that have played an integral role in the Gilas program. Who should be the next lead guard of the team?
It should be Paul Lee. He and Castro have waged war together on the World Stage. Lee was part of the Gilas team that competed in Spain back in 2014. In terms of experience, no other guard currently in the pool can match Lee.
More than the experience, Lee and Castro have similar games. Castro uses timing and hesitation to get into the lane. Lee is a bowling ball that can take the contact and still finish. He also has a feel for the flow of the game that Castro does. He understands when it’s time to create for the rest of the team and when it’s time to step up and make plays. And when the game is on the line, just like Castro, Lee doesn’t fold.
The only problem with Lee is his health. He’s been hampered by injuries to his shoulders and knees. He missed an important part of the Governor’s Cup because he re-injured his knee. The transition would have been the smoothest from Castro to Lee given their experience together as well as their playing style. But Gilas needs someone who will be available for multiple tournaments, healthy and ready to play. Right now, that isn’t Lee.
Which is why Gilas will have to look at the younger generation of guards currently in the Gilas Pool. Castro himself said it in his retirement post, “it’s time to hand over the responsibility to the younger generation.”
The name being floated around as the point guard of the future for Gilas is Terrence Romeo. The high-scoring guard is out of the team right now because of an injury but he’s definitely top of mind when it comes to forming a Gilas roster.
Castro and Romeo are both exhilarating players to watch. Both of them are magicians on the court. Now you see them, then in a blink, they’re gone. Castro can get to point A and point B in an instant. Romeo will toy with your feelings first before he leaves you defending a shadow with one quick crossover.
What makes Romeo a great choice to step into Castro’s role is that he’s proven himself capable of carrying the team with his scoring. Both Castro and Romeo have shown that they can change the flow of games by putting up points in bunches. Romeo is probably one of the best in Asia at raining baskets at rapid succession.
Even if Romeo is the better scorer, Castro has a deeper understanding of the flow of the game. Castro senses when to feed June Mar Fajardo and Andray Blatche. He’s aware that Calvin and will always just be around the hoop. He knows where his shooters will be even before they get there. Castro understands when to stop his scoring spurt and resume orchestrating the offense.
Yes, Romeo can change the flow of the game by dropping 20 points in one quarter. But his gunslinger mentality can also hurt Gilas. There will be times when Romeo’s scoring isn’t the answer but he will still force the issue. As a player, he still has to understand that there are so many other ways he can help the team beyond scoring. Romeo has to change his mindset when it comes to Gilas. So far, he still hasn’t proven that.
Kiefer Ravena showed promise in the first two games of the World Cup Qualifiers. He served as Castro’s main back-up during the two games. He was solid against Japan but it was his performance against Chinese Taipei that really opened eyes to the possibility of him taking on Castro’s role in the future. Ravena stepped in during the second quarter comeback run and contributed on both ends of the court.
There was a youthful fire in Ravena during the game against Chinese Taipei. He played defense like he was a freshman back in Ateneo, picking pockets with quick hands and fast feet. But that fire didn’t consume him. Even though he wanted to prove himself, he still played within the system and found his teammates at the right spots.
The obvious downside to Ravena is his experience. He’s a familiar face in the National Team because of his time with the Cadets. But he’s not ready to take on the full brunt of the workload in the main Gilas team. Ravena will still need to develop that chemistry with the rest of the team as well as his own skills in order to be recognized as Castro’s successor.
The succession plan at this point is clear. When Castro decides to retire, the next in line for the point guard position will be Lee or Romeo with Ravena backing them up. It’s a great plan on paper but there are downsides to each player and the transition will not be as smooth as it was when Alapag handed over the team to Castro. There will be bumps on the road, one that Gilas should be prepared for.
For now, Jayson Castro should be appreciated like fine art. The way he controls the team and takes over at the right moment should be savored. He should be celebrated with all caps tweets on Twitter. There should be GIFs and highlight packages of his exploits in the international arena. Because who knows? In one Instagram post, he could be done.
Photos from FIBA.com