GILAS Pilipinas begins its campaign in the November window of the qualifiers for the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup on Friday, taking on Thailand in the first of a slated two-game series in Manama, Bahrain.

Bannered this time around by amateur and collegiate stars, the Philippine men’s basketball team, currently sporting a 1-0 record in the tournament, is looking to stay unscathed and build momentum for future windows of the qualifiers.

Fourteen players are included in the Gilas pool for the window, namely: Kobe Paras, Juan and Javi Gomez De Liano, Jaydee Tungcab, Dwight Ramos, Dave Ildefonso, Will Navarro, Justine Baltazar, Calvin Oftana, Kenmark Carino, Isaac Go, Matt and Mike Nieto, and Rey Suerte.

As of this writing, the team has yet to announce who the final 12 players will be on tap for the team’s first game, set for 9 p.m. (Manila time), at the Khalifa Sports City Stadium.

Coach of the team is veteran Jong Uichico, supported by SBP program director Tab Baldwin, assistant coach Boyet Fernandez, and skills coach Alton Lister.

The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas said it is excited to see the young Gilas crew in action, seeing it as laying the groundwork for the future, including the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) World Cup in 2023 where the Philippines is one of the hosts.

“I am excited because it’s only gonna level up Philippine basketball with this experience and yes, a lot of pool of young men I’m excited to see who among these players will be there in 2023 and of course to be competing slots with PBA (Philippine Basketball Association) veterans,” said SBP president Al Panlilio on Tiebreaker Vods’ 2OT podcast on Tuesday.

“We’re really looking at this as a long-term program for the national team,” he added.

Because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Philippines has played only one game to date in Group A, a 100-70 win over Indonesia (0-2) in February in Jakarta.

Thirdy Ravena, currently playing in the Japan league, led the way for Gilas in said game, finishing with 24 points and eight rebounds. PBA stars CJ Perez and Roger Pogoy backstopped him with 20 and 19 points, respectively.

Messrs. Ramos and Go and Juan Gomez De Liano and Matt Nieto were also part of the team then, combining for 31 points.

Thailand, for its part, has also played only one game, losing to group leader South Korea (2-0), 93-86.

Thai-American Tyler Lamb paced his team in said game, finishing with a double-double of 20 points and 12 rebounds.

Nakorn Jaisanuk followed with 15 points, with Chanatip Jakrawan and Wattana Suttisin adding 13 and 12 points apiece.

As per tournament format, the top two teams in the group at the end of the qualifiers advance to the FIBA Asia Cup set for August next year.

Gilas versus Thailand will be broadcast live over One Sports and ONE Sports+.

The second game between the two teams will be on Nov. 30. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo