Palawan, the jury is out and here you have the valiant 12 that will represent Team Pilipinas in the 2019 FIBA World Cup of Basketball:
Bigs – Andre Blatche 6’11, Junemar Fajardo 6’10, Japheth Aguilar 6’8 and Raymond Almazan 6’7
Forwards/ Wings – Troy Rosario 6’6, Gabe Norwood 6’5
Shooters/ 2 guards – Robert Bolick 6’1, CJ Perez 6’2 and RR Pogoy 6’2
Point guards – Mark Barroca 5’10, Kiefer Ravena 5’11, and Paul Lee 6’0
Let’s break down our line up, its chances, and the challenges and opportunities we are going to face in the elimination bracket.
Projected Starter Combinations
Mark Barroca, Paul Lee, Andre Blatche, Japeth Aguilar, Gabe Norwood
Ravena, RR Pogoy, Blatche, Aguilar and Norwood
It would be simple enough to imagine a Barroca and Lee guard tandem due to their cohesion and teamwork, being teammates at the Magnolia camp. It is logical to pair the tandem together to start at the backcourt. The trio of Blatche, Aguilar and Norwood are a given due to their collective past tour of duties together in the international fold.
Now head coach Yeng Guiao may also play a match up game depending on the height and skills of their opponents so if he wishes to play big, it’s easy to slide Norwood to the 2 position while inserting Rosario as the 3 man. This roster can be mixed and shuffled that even the tenth man can take starting duties.
I think we won’t have any advantage in the worlds with just Andre Blatche and Junemar Fajardo as post men. We will always face a team with a 5-man rotation of bigs. Some even capable of hoisting 3’s from way out. The good news is, Aguilar and Almazan can chase stretch 4’s due to their agility and speed. All Blatche and Fajardo need to do is to ensure a solid rim protection strategy. Blatche won’t have a problem sagging down low to change shots. Fajardo can be the bulk needed to bang bodies with the FIBA centers.
We may see a tandem of Blatche and Fajardo together in a few stretches during games but we expect bulk of the 4 and 5 minutes to go to Aguilar and Blatche respectively. I expect Blatche to play 34 minutes minimum per game so it is important that he is on top condition and stay away from early foul trouble.
Wings and Shooters
I wish Marcio Lassiter and Matthew Wright didn’t suffer injuries prior to the tournament but they did, so coach Guiao would have to make do with RR Pogoy, Lee, Rosario, and new comers Robert Bollick and CJ Perez. The latter two I expect to be the 11-12th players in the rotation. Both will gain valuable experience this year that will come in handy for them in future tournaments.
Pogoy, Lee, Rosario can provide decent shooting along with point guards Ravena and Barroca. Are they enough to strike fear and keep zone defenders honest? Let’s face it, we aren’t a FIBA grade outside shooting team. Japan, China and Korea shoot better 3s than us in international play. This is not a strong spot left wanting by the injured Lassiter and Wright. For us to advance the next round, our shooters need to have their A-game right off the bat. They can’t have an off night.
The Court Generals
By Asian standards, our crew is still competent even without Asia’s best guard, Jayson Castro. Mark Barroca, an original Gilas member back when coach Rajko Toroman was still on the fray, and Keifer Ravena will alternate in directing plays with Paul Lee sparing some minutes when needed.
We may be good in the backcourt but keep in mind that this is the World Cup where the likes of NBA caliber guards in Patty Mills (Australia), Kemba Walker (USA) and Ricky Rubio (Spain) are expected to dominate.
So where do we stand a chance considering the level of competition we are facing? We will try to run and take as many shots quickly and hope that our 3 point percentage hits >40% for us to stand a chance. If there is no opportunity to run, we should be deliberate in our offence, not rushing shots in the set. A combination of a quick offensive transition or milking the set play to take the opponent off rhythm. Be unpredictable. Learn from how the Japanese turn their height (watch their men’s basketball and volleyball teams) to a smart advantage against opponents.
We can also experiment with Gabe Norwood at point along with Pogoy, Rosario, Aguilar and Blatche. See if this relatively big combination can do well against Italy, the favourite in our elimination bracket. Coach Yeng Guiao won’t hesitate to rumble the rotation to get the best out of our team. And he is somebody who doesn’t run the now oft predictable triangle offense. He is the best coach to deal with the cards that we have right now. Someone who will take chances and risks and can keep the opponents puzzled via his free flowing offensive patterns.
It will be a hard task but if Team Pilipinas scores an upset or two, we would have accomplished better than the last World Cup team. Laban Pilipinas!
Batang Pinoy in Puerto Princesa
Congratulations to our very own City of Puerto Princesa for successfully hosting this year’s Batang Pinoy. To Hon. Mayor Lucilo Bayron, this is the start of something big for Palawan. Let’s host the Palarong Pambansa and perhaps be part of the venues for one of the sports disciplines in the upcoming Southeast Asian Games later this year. We have a state of the art sports complex ready to host a big national or international spectacle. Be proud and happy, Palawan!
(The writer is a senior leader in the Business Process Outsourcing industry managing Philippine countryside operations)