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Young guns for W’Cup

By Jerome Lagunzad

Collegiate standouts, led by La Salle wingman Ricci Rivero, and rising pro league cagers are expected to form the Gilas Pilipinas core which will vie for basketball supremacy in the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Manila.

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With two-time FIBA Asia Mythical Team member Jayson Castro and several Gilas mainstays could be past their prime by that time, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas is already shifting its focus on identifying prized young talents as the world’s biggest basketball conclave makes its return to the country for the first time since 1978.

“The players who will likely compose the 2023 won’t be the current ones. I think the players must be 26 to 32 (years old by 2023),” SBP chairman emeritus Manny V. Pangilinan said in yesterday’s press conference at the Grand Ballroom of Crowne Plaza-Manila.

Pangilinan, 71, mentioned the likes of TNT sophomore Roger Pogoy, NLEX rookie Kiefer Ravena and his younger brother Thirdy of Ateneo, and the 6-foot-1 Rivero as possible shoo-ins for the 23-strong training pool, saying “these are players of the future.”

Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes echoed Pangilinan’s sentiments, saying: “The players should be between 26 to 32 years. They’re going to be at their peak. But we’re not discounting exceptional players age 22, 23 years old.”

Reigning four-time PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo, who will turn 34 six years from now, as well as Barangay Ginebra’s towering frontline of Japeth Aguilar (36) and Greg Slaughter (35) might still be called for another tour of duty with the national team.

However, the Nationals are sure to have a naturalized player in tow, with big man Andray Blatche already 37 years old – and likely past his dominant form – by 2023.

So far, SBP is mulling to have at least two candidates for naturalization, including lanky American Isaiah Austin who has suited up for Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas in the FIBA Asia Champions Cup last September.

“Right now, we’re ready to spearhead that process,” said SBP vice chairman Robbie Puno. “But we’re still looking for the best possible candidate. We have enough time to make sure that we’re getting the best talent, not only for his skills but also his attitude.”

Puno, also a member of the Lower House as Antipolo City representative, said he is also keen on helping create a law “that will mandate all associations to lend their players to help the national teams.”