By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter

THE Philippine national men’s basketball team is set to add players to its pool from the rookie draft of the local professional league set for March.

Following its meeting with the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) last week, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) submitted a list of players it is interested in tapping to be part of the national team program in preparation for future international competitions.

The local basketball federation said it will be picking Jordan Heading, Tzaddy Rangel and Jaydee Tungcab from the special PBA rookie draft for Gilas on March 14.

The three players will join Isaac Go (Terrafirma), Matt Nieto (NLEX), Mike Nieto (Rain or Shine), Rey Suerte (Blackwater), and Allyn Bulanadi (Alaska), Gilas draftees in 2019, as full-time members of the Gilas Pilipinas pool.

The pool is part of the long-term plan of the SBP to ready the national team for international competitions, particularly the 2023 FIBA World Cup where the Philippines is one of the hosts along with Japan and Indonesia.

Mr. Heading is a 6-foot-2 guard from the California Baptist University and a product of the Batang Gilas program, while Mr. Rangel is a 6-foot-8 bruiser from the National University.

The two were teammates under San Miguel Alab Pilipinas in the ASEAN Basketball League.

Mr. Tungcab is a 6-foot-3 guard from the University of the Philippines (UP), who was supposed to play as an Asian import in the Japanese B. League before new strains of the coronavirus derailed it.

He is no longer a stranger to Gilas being part of the cadet squad that saw action in the second window of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Asia Cup Qualifiers last year.

The three are among the record of 97 players who have applied in the PBA rookie draft.

“We thank the three for their trust and commitment to the program. Over a short span, we’ve seen the development of the program and of the players’ individual talents as well and we’re confident that the upcoming Gilas draftees will benefit greatly under Program Director Tab Baldwin and his outstanding staff of coaches,” said SBP President Al Panlilio in a statement.

Meanwhile, Clark City in Angeles, Pampanga, is back as host of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifier third window.

Following the decision of FIBA last week to cancel the event in Doha, Qatar, because of the rising cases of the coronavirus there, the SBP stepped up anew and offered the Philippines as venue for the qualifying leg of the regional tournament.

It is actually a re-hosting for the country as it was originally set to host the third and final window this week until SBP decided to pull the plug late last month over concerns on the new strains of the coronavirus and heightened restrictions by the government because of them.

Qatar offered itself as host until the country, too, decided to drop out.

In Doha, three groups were set to play, namely A, B and E, from Feb. 17 to 23.

“The Qatar Basketball Federation was there to help out when we could not push through with our hosting and it’s just right for the SBP to be here for them and for FIBA as well,” said Mr. Panlilio in a separate statement.

“What we have to remember during these difficult times that the entire international basketball community is part of one team. We must do our best to help each other as much as we can. We know that our great fans from all over Asia draw a lot of inspiration from their respective national teams and this is why hosting these games holds a lot of value even during a pandemic,” he added.

In communication with FIBA, the SBP said it was decided that two groups will be playing in the Philippines and one group in Lebanon.

The schedule and logistics are currently being finalized.

Gilas Pilipinas currently leads Group A with a 3-0 record. Other teams part of the grouping are Korea (2-0), Indonesia (1-2), and Thailand (0-4).