Palawan, our very own Team Pilipinas national basketball team, riding the wings of an outrageous performance from the naturalized player and ex-NBA veteran Andre’ Blatche, beat Kazakhstan last weekend to qualify for the August 2019 World Cup of Basketball!  Blatche’s 41 point explosion on the most important qualifying match was simply too much for Kazakhstan to handle.

Congratulations to the entire team for making it this far.  Work does not stop for our boys as we need to make sure that they rev up the work between today and the World Cup.

What can we look forward to in our roster composition?  It’s obvious we need Blatche to continue to flex his muscles in China but who should we retain and add to the team to make sure we get our best chances to succeed?  Yours truly thinks we need more big men in our line up.

Imagine Blatche backed up by Junemar Fajardo and Greg Slaughter.  Fajardo and Slaughter can alternate at the center spot which allows Blatche to operate the stretch four position backed up by Japeth Aguilar.  We already have a good four-man rotation given this scenario and we can always have Raymond Almazan as part of the reserve team.  But what do we do to reinforce our bigs?  We need to surround them well with nothing but shooters.

Since we need to shoot the lights out of the competition, I strongly believe we need Marcio Lassiter, Troy Rosario (he can play the 2-3-4 spots), Gabe Norwood (more of a defensive presence than a shooter but can still fit the bill of a “shooter”), even Big Game James Yap as we are seeing him play like he was 10 years younger lately.  We also need to train and convert Poy Erram and Aguilar to shoot the 3 ball more.  We have 4 months to convert our local bigs into stretch fours or shooters to adjust to the FIBA game.  We all know that the European teams have 7 footers who can shoot the three.  We need to be better than them in converting from long distance and we still have time to do that.

If the team needs someone who can re-engineer a shot, I believe Tab Baldwin is the right guy to add to our coaching staff.  Imagine what he has done to the Ateneo Blue Eagles when he converted the majority of their line up to a three-point shooting machine.  The offseason training deployed by Baldwin improved the Blue Eagles’ shot prowess resulting to back to back UAAP championships.  If we need to beef our roster with our best players, our coaching staff needs to be built similarly.  I am certain head coach Yeng Guiao, as a student of the game, will understand the need to shore up our bench tacticians.

The last piece is identifying a solid backcourt for the team. Jayson Castro is practically a shoo in but we need two more guys who can run the play, shoot the ball and not crumble at a full court press of guards a head taller than our average backcourt height.  Ideally, we would need taller point guards and I believe Scottie Thompson and Paul Lee can fit the bill.  It will be a bonus if we can get the services of NBA veteran Jordan Clarkson in our line up.  He will solve the guard line up and can become the single, game-long threat the team needs to confuse the defense of our opponents.  Clarkson can take us to a whole new level in the World Cup.  Imagine a starting line up of:

* Jason Castro 5’10

* Jordan Clarkson 6’5

* Junemar Fajardo 6’10

* Andre Blatche 6’11

* Marcio Lassiter 6’3

Four of the 5 starters can shoot the lights out and this is a starting unit that won’t back down however big the opponents are.  Blatche and Junemar can take care of protecting the paint and Lassiter and Clarkson will feed off Castro’s dribble drive plays.

I am quite excited if we are able to bring this roster over to China and I am sure a few tune ups leading to the tournament will do us well.  It won’t hurt fielding the team to a pocket tournament before the World Cup.  A championship calibre roster and a championship calibre coaching staff.  What more could we ask for?

Team Pilipinas needs championship calibre support from us in August, Palawan.  Watch the team, cheer for them, motivate the guys by sending words of encouragement in social media.  We may not necessarily be the ones competing on the hard court but our boys need all encouragement to battle the odds that are stacked heavily against us.  Winning it all may be like finding a needle in a haystack but even if we reach the quarterfinals on our second tour of the World Cup this decade, that already is a major victory for Philippine Basketball.

Laban Pilipinas!

(The writer is a senior leader of the only Business Process Outsourcing Contact Center company in Puerto Princesa. He also is the current Puerto Princesa Underground River Festival Foundation President)