The first window of the 2019 FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers is right around the corner, as Gilas Pilipinas will take on Thailand on February 20 and Indonesia on February 23.
Less than two weeks left before the Filipinos play hosts to the Thais, the national team is still reeling from the omission of the country’s two best big men from the team.
Naturalized bruiser Christian Standhardinger has begged off due to a lingering left knee issue, while reigning PBA Govs’ Cup Finals MVP Japeth Aguilar requested an extended leave for his honeymoon.
This leaves the Mark Dickel-mentored squad with only few options in the middle.
Among the holdovers, only Poy Erram and Troy Rosario are above 6-foot-6. Although undersized at 6-foot-4, the returning Marc Pingris is also a viable option in the Gilas pool.
With his international experience and elite rim-protection abilities, Erram is the most logical choice to assume the starting spot at center.
On offense, the lanky 6-foot-8 beanpole can also open driving lanes for Gilas’ shifty guards with his floor spacing capabilities. He’s also quite good in pick-and-roll situations and will give guys like Kiefer Ravena more room to operate.
Rosario, on the other hand, can play the five position in the event that Dickel opts to play small ball in some stretches. But despite his above-average athleticism, the former NU Bulldog is still more suited at the two forward positions.
Rosario will indeed have redemption in his mind after firing blanks during his last outing for Gilas in the World Cup.
Then, there’s Pingris, the epitome of “PUSO” and the heart and soul of the most successful Gilas team in history.
Now at 36 years old and coming off an ACL injury, Pingris has been brought in by Gilas consultant Tab Baldwin to mentor the future big men of the national team.
At this point in Pingris’ career, the team will be better off giving unproven studs Isaac Go and Justin Baltazar a chance to get their feet wet in international competition.
The Ateneo and La Salle products both stand at 6-foot-8 and have enjoyed outstanding collegiate careers.
Go’s bulky frame will come in handy when dealing against some of the most physical players in Asia, while Baltazar boasts a lanky, athletic frame similar to Erram.
Both studs also fit today’s modern game with their ability to dial it from deep.
Gilas’ saving grace comes from the arrival of three PBA players, as Justin Chua, Vic Manuel, and Abu Tratter have recently been added to the pool.
Chua, a 6-foot-6 Ateneo product, is an effective screen setter and a dependable perimeter shooter.
Manuel, meanwhile, dazzled in his first national team duty in Gilas’ gold conquest in the 2019 SEA Games last year.
Standhardinger and Aguilar’s dominance in the pain shall be missed, but the team can still get some easy buckets underneath thanks to Manuel’s proficiency on the low block.
The 27-year-old Tratter, on the other hand, is another untested but promising big who should be able to give the team a boost.
These players will indeed be facing a steep challenge against some of the bigger players Asia has to offer.
Gilas’ dominant center June Mar Fajardo will not be able to bail them out in the coming windows, as he is expected to be sidelined the rest of the year due to a gruesome leg injury.
Still, Gilas Pilipinas will once again banner the flag with all their might, led by their mix of young and experienced frontline.