Last Monday night, National Coach Joseller “Yeng” Guiao bared the 19-man pool of Gilas Pilipinas that will see action at the FIBA World Cup from Aug. 31 to Sept. 15, 2019 in China. 

The roster included “regulars” in the national team such as Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) five-time Most Valuable Player (MVP) June Mar Fajardo, Gabe Norwood, who has been serving the national cause since 2007, Japeth Aguilar, Paul Lee, RR Pogoy, Troy Rosario, Gilas 1.0 originals Mark Barroca and Marcio Lassiter, new hotshot Matthew Wright, college phenom Kiefer Ravena, “Yeng Guiao Bigs” Raymond Almazan, Poy Erram and Beau Belga, and newcomers Robert Bolick and CJ Perez. 

Also included in the pool are Stanley Pringle and Christian Standhardinger who suited up in past Gilas campaigns as naturalized players. Finally, we can’t miss the current foundation of the team, naturalized player and NBA veteran Andray Blatche, who spearheaded the country’s campaign during the last World Cup in Spain.

One notable inclusion in the national pool is NBA rising star Jordan Clarkson, who played for the flag in the last Asian Games in Indonesia. 

Officials of the Samahang Basketball ng Pilipinas, headed by Al Panlilio, are hoping that FIBA will relax its rules and allow Clarkson to suit up with the national team as a local. The inclusion of Clarkson in our national team will surely be a game changer. They will be up against Italy, Serbia and Angola in the preliminaries. 

But the question begs, is our best at par with the world’s best? Who’s in and who’s out?

Heres my Final 12:


June Mar Fajardo (Center)

Let’s face it, the five-time PBA MVP is our only natural big man in the roster. When I say “natural” he is your typical back-to-the-basket player. In the on-going PBA Commissioner’s Cup, the “Kraken” averages 15.3 points and 11.3 rebounds in 30.3 minutes of action. The 6’10 slotman from Cebu takes on a different role in the world game being an efficient back-up. During the FIBA Asia Qualifiers, he averaged a decent 10.8 points while grabbing 4.7 rebounds in 18.2 minutes of action. Fajardo has been the Mr. Quality Minutes of Gilas, giving the much-needed rest for starting slotman Andray Blatche while being productive when his number is called, averaging only 0.9 turnovers per game. 

Poy Erram (Power Forward/Center)

The 6’8” stretch big is new to national duties and also a new Yeng Guiao disciple, playing for the latter as NLEX’s top big man. The former Ateneo Blue Eagle averages 10.3 points and 7.5 rebounds in 23.8 minutes per game. One asset of Erram to compliment the system of Coach Yeng Guiao is his newfound touch from way beyond the arc. Playing in five games during the qualifiers, he averaged 33 percent from outside. Expect him to be alongside Fajardo in providing quality minutes in the center position in the World Cup, battling underneath with the likes of Nikola Jokic and Boban Marjanovic of Serbia. 

Japeth Aguilar (Forward/Center)

At 6’9”, the Pampanga native and US NCAA Division I product from Western Kentucky has been a fixture in the national team since 2009, starting with the Yeng Guiao-mentored Powerade Pilipinas team, and the Gilas program. Undeniably, his length is his asset. In the on-going PBA Commissioner’s Cup, Aguilar has been averaging 13.4 points and and 5 rebounds per game. He is also a monster on the defensive end, averaging 1.3 blocks per game for crowd darling Barangay Ginebra and a block a game across 11 games in the Asian Qualifiers. He can also stretch the floor, shooting 50 percent from way beyond the arc for Ginebra. The biggest asset of Aguilar is his familiarity playing the international game, owing his longevity in serving the flag and also his familiarity with the system of Coach Yeng Guiao, his first coach in the PBA and in the national team.

Wings and Shooters

Troy Rosario (Forward)

The product National University has been a Gilas mainstay since the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament. From playing the center position in college, Rosario has evolved to play the small forward and power forward positions, adding versatility to the national team roster. He also has a 6’7” frame that can match up with opposing stretch forwards in the tournament. On paper, Troy averages 4.0 points and almost 3 rebounds per outing in 6 games during the qualifiers, but what he gives to the table is more that what is seen in the stat sheet. He has proven that he can bang bodies inside for 50-50 balls and hit outside shots as well.

Marcio Lassiter/Matthew Wright/RR Pogoy (Guards/Forwards) 

Let’s admit that there will never be another shooter in the Philippine Basketball team who is in the mold of an Allan Caidic, who donned the national tri-colors in the mid 80s and 90s. Caidic’s snipping prowess struck fear among opposing teams, even the Koreans who are known until this day to be dead shots from way beyond because of their discipline and training. 

The best that we have right now are Marcio Lassiter who was part of the orginal Gilas program in 2009-2011, Fil-Canadian Matthew Wright and former Far Eastern University standout Roger “RR” Pogay. Lassiter is bringing a lot of international experience to the team, having been trained by the fabled Rajko Toroman. He has been one of the deadliest shooters in the PBA, shooting 38 percent for the San Miguel Beermen and 45 percent from the outside, playing in six games during the qualifiers. 

On the other hand, Matthew Wright is the top dog of the Phoenix Fuel Masters. He shoots 40 percent in the on-going PBA Commissioner’s Cup and in 9 games during the qualifiers, shot 32 percent from outside. He has been a steady fixture for Gilas since the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup. 

Meanwhile RR Pogoy has been a revelation and has transformed himself as the top local for the TNT Ka Tropa, averaging almost 17 points in 34 minutes of play in the Commissioner’s Cup while shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc. 

These three shooters will be crucial to the success of Coach Yeng Guiao in implementing his system in the World Cup. If we will trace the system of Coach Yeng, it has been predicated with constant ball and personnel movement and anchored also on hitting outside shots. Historically, almost all the teams Coach Yeng handled in the PBA had pure shooters like Al Solis, Boy Cabahug, Larry Fonacier and Jeff Chan. Also, having deadly shooters in the team compensates for lack of ceiling. All we hope for is the come World Cup time, these three will come in lock, loaded and ready to snipe away. 


Mark Barroca/Kiefer Ravena/Paul Lee/Gabe Norwood (Point Guards/Shooting Guards)

After Asia’s top point guard Jayson Castro retired from national duties and other point guards like Bobby Ray Parks and Scottie Thompson declined to serve the national tri-colors, manning the point was left to Magnolia’s Mark Barroca, who was also part of the original Gilas Team of Coach Rajko Toroman; college phenom and former King Eagle Kiefer Ravena who has been re-activated for professional and national duty after serving out an 18-month suspension from FIBA; Magnolia’s top dog Paul Lee; and defensive stopper Gabe Norword, the longest-tenured player in the current roster of Gilas. 

Like Marcio Lassiter, Mark Barroca will bring in a lot of international experience to this team that will keep the five on the floor steady, as he did from 2009 to 2011 battling taller and stronger floor generals. He is quick and can outsmart the opposition. He averages 13.7 points and almost 5 assists, while shooting 34 percent from way beyond in almost 34 minutes of play. 

His back court partner over at Magnolia, Paul Lee has also been one of the veterans in international play. He played in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain and has been a mainstay with Gilas since Coach Yeng Guaio took the helm last year. The upside of having Paul Lee in the line-up is his connection with Guiao and the trust he enjoys from him. Aside from that, Lee is a combo guard who can do it all and score at will, most especially during crunch time. In the 4 games that he played during the qualifiers, he averaged 8.5 points per game while shooting 35.7 percent from the outside. 

Kiefer Ravena, the new Yeng Guiao disciple, played four games during the qualifiers before he got suspended for taking banned substances. In the games that he played, he was steady, averaging 7.3 points while playing back-up to Castro. The phenom also brings that scoring point-guard mentality, the same with Lee who will not hesitate to score whenever it is possible and possess a high basketball IQ to set up teammates for the best shot possible.

Mr. President, Mr. Cool, whatever you call him, Gabe Norwood, arguably Asia’s best defender, will have his spot in the team. Norwood started donning the national colors in 2007 fresh out of George Mason University, and at 34 years old is the most senior among the players in the pool. Who could ever forget his posterization of Luis Scola during the 2014 FIBA Cup against Argentina that really brought the house down? 

During the qualifiers, the 6’5” Norwood averaged 4.6 points, 3 rebounds and almost 2 assists in 12 games. His hands will be full again in China as he will probably be tasked to guard the likes of Milos Teodosic and Marco Bellinelli. This tournament can be Norwood’s swan song as a national team player.

Naturalized Player

Andray Blatche (Forward/Center)

Without a shadow of a doubt, Andray Blatche is the cornerstone of this team. In the last game of the qualifiers where Gilas punched its ticket to China, he literally carried the team on his shoulders, scoring 41 big points, grabbing 13 rebounds, and issuing 3 assists, while shooting 60 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc in a war against Kazakhstan. 

His experience playing in the NBA and his skill in bringing down the ball can break down the opposition’s defense, as he can set up an open shooter who is ready to snipe from the outside. The question now is, come World Cup time, would he be in game shape as he was in that clincher against Kazakhstan? He should be.

As writing, the status of Jordan Clarkson is still up in the air. In the Asian Games, he was given a one-time clearance to play. But the FIBA World Cup is a different story. The SBP is moving mountains to appeal the case of Clarkson to play as a local. While the ordinary Filipino basketball fan dreams of a Clarkson-Blatche 1-2 punch, for now it is a long shot. 

(This final 12 is based on the skill set of the players, familiarity with the system of the coach, familiarity with the international game and the match-ups they will be encountering in the FIBA World Cup to be hosted by Chna.)

Chris King De La Cruz is basketball coach and a senior high school teacher at the University of Santo Tomas. He was a Top 10 Coach of the Year finalist in the Junior NBA in 2015. He has done analysis in panels for the television coverages of NAASCU, UCBL, and recently, the Metro League. He is a regular resource person and analyst for DZMM Teleradyo’s “Fastbreak.” The coach of the basketball team of the Office of the Solicitor General, Chris is active in the recreational basketball circuit in Metro Manila. He holds a master’s degree in religious education from Ateneo de Manila University.