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Sam Miguel

Best Roster for August FIBA Asia Championships

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Anytime the country is competing in an internaitonal basketball tournament the problem for us remains the same: size, or lack thereof. That problem remains even for the upcoming FIBA Asia Championships in August of this year, which the Samahan Basketbol ng Pilipinas somehow managed to bring to the country after some acrimony as to venue a few months back.

Looking back to the Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) the forerunner of the FIBA Asia, 1973 was the last time the Philippines won the prestigious tournament on Philippine soil. Legends Ramon Fernandez, Sonny Jaworski, Bogs Adornado, Manny Paner, Dave Regullano, Tembong Melencio, Yoyong Martires, Francis Arnaiz, Abet Guidaben, Joy Cleofas, Ed Ocampo and Big Boy Reynoso beat another legend, Shin Dong Pa and the rest of the South Korean national team at the sweltering Rizal Memorial Stadium to bring home the crown in front of a raucaous capacity crowd.

We had our anxious moments back then, against Shin and also against Yamaguchi and Japan in the semifinals, but we were able to rule the tournament with a combination of talent, skill, grit and good old fashioned patriotism. Fernandez and Adornado were offensive machines, Regullano and Melencio were the enforcers, Arnaiz and Martires provided speed and hustle, Ocampo was the defensive stopper, everybody else delivering as needed. Although the opposing teams were generally taller, we were clearly the more talented and better skilled side.

Fast forward four decades later and we are now on the outside looking in here in Asia. China has not only grown taller but they have gotten much better in terms of skill and talent. At least four players from the Chinese mainland have made full time NBA rosters, led of course by the towering Yao Ming. Iran, coached by former Smart Gilas bench boss Rajko Toroman, made it to the 2008 Olympics. South Korea and Japan remain as hoops powerhouses, and Taiwan has been in the picture for a good long while now.

Our country for its part had its best Asian finish in the 1990 Asian Games in Busan, South Korea, when Jaworski led an all-PBA roster to the silver medal, losing to the mighty Chinese. It has not gone well at all for the country since then. Toroman's best finish in the FIBA Asia was fourth, handling the then-mostly amateur Gilas squad, featuring the likes of Chris Tiu, Mark Barroca and naturalized American Marcus Douthit.

With the tournament coming to Manila on or about the 40th anniversary of the Manila ABC championship, it certainly behooves us to put together the best squad we can. San Miguel Corporation has already given its go-ahead to use three of their best pro players for the FIBA Asia tournament. Noli Eala of SMC said "Junmar, LA and Ping are also available to Gilas if they want them," he said in a Tweet, referring to 6-foot-10 Petron center Junmar Fajardo, this year's top rookie draft pick, 5-foot-8 pointguard LA Tenorio of Ginebra, and 6-foot-5 forward Marc Pingris of San Mig Coffee. Eala also said via Twitter that "SMC position is to postpone it 'til after FIBA Asia in order to give Gilas ample time to prepare," referring to when the PBA third conference would open. Said third conference is supposed to open on February 18, just a couple of weeks from now.

Apart from the three aforementioned players though, the 12-man roster for the FIBA Asia tournament has to be set as sson as possible, preferably within the next two weeks. Size, as mentioned, being the biggest problem for the national team, Fajardo will certainly be a welcome addition. He should make a fine addition to Douthit and 7-foot former University fo the Visayas and Ateneo center Greg Slaughter. Fajardo and Slaughter know each other well from their days as varsity stars in Cebu and should have no problems playing together.

Pingris is a tough and athletic sort who defends the low post, crashes both boards and even sticks in the occasional put-back or alley-hoop. He should ideally be joined by 6-foot-7 Kelly Williams and 6-foot-4 Jared Dillinger of Talk N Text, and current Gilas II cadet 6-foot-5 forward Jake Pascual to round out the forwards spots. Dillinger will provide perimeter scoring and defense, making him a valuable two-way asset, with the size and quickness to keep up with other Asian forwards. Williams will put his athletic ability to good use at the 4/3 spot since the big boys will man the middle. Pascual provides insurance at both the 3 and 4.

Tenorio had a good tournament for Gilas just a couple months back and should have great confidence in international play. 5-foot-10 guard Jayson Castro of TNT needs to join him in the backcourt to provide constant push-up tempo and pressure on opposing defenses in the drving lanes. 6-foot-2 swingman Gary David of Powerade, another successful international campaigner of late has to bring in his long toms. New 6-foot-5 Fil-Am discovery Matt Rosser (Ganuelas) and 6-foot-2 power leaper / shooter Ronald Pascual, another Gilas II cadet, should round out the roster. Rosser hasn't shown much yet with Gilas II, but anytime a tall athletic swingman is available he deserves a chance. Dillinger can swing to the perimeter if he has to if the backcourt needs more size.

Coach Chot Reyes certainly has his work cut out for him. All of the regional powerhouses will be coming to Manila in August. They are tall, talented, seasoned and skilled. He has about five months and change to assemble his roster and train together as a team. He surely will have some other ideas as to who will eventually make it to the roster, although the three big men in the middle should be assured roster spots. All other positions however remain unguaranteed. If he can get taller players to fill them he should. The likes of 6-foot guard Paul Lee, 6-foot-2 off-guard Jeff Chan, 6-foot-5 guard Gabe Norwood, 6-foot-4 swingman Marcio Lassiter, 6-foot-5 forward Ranidel De Ocampo, 6-foot-8 center Sonny Thoss, and maybe even bringing back 6-foot-10 center Asi Taulava would not and should not be out of the question.


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