MANILA, Philippines – For the past few years, Gilas Pilipinas' stronghold in the international basketball scene is its guard position.
The world had seen how Jimmy Alapag helped break the Korean curse, how Paul Lee tore China's heart apart in 2014 with his clutch free throws, how Terrence Romeo embarrassed opponents with his dazzling handles and how Jayson Castro stood tall over the competition by being named the Best Point Guard in Asia.
This time, two young guards in Kiefer Ravena and Kevin Alas eye to make their mark as the Philippines take on Australia, Asia's number one team, in their opening game of the second window of the FIBA Asian Qualifiers for the 2019 World Cup.
With Castro, who is currently under the weather after twisting his ankle two weeks ago, and Jio Jalalon, who is feeling slight pain in his legs, left out of the final 12-man lineup that will face the Boomers, Gilas' backcourt duties rest on the shoulders of the 24-year-old Ravena and the 26-year-old Alas.
Ravena, NLEX Road Warriors' second overall pick in the 2017 PBA Draft, has been the most consistent and impressive rookie in the PBA this season, submitting per game averages of 16.9 points, 5.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds in 10 games.
Alas, meanwhile, is averaging 11.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists and is coming off a 16-point, 4th-quarter explosion last February 18 that helped NLEX clinch a playoff berth in the All-Filipino Cup.
"Both of them have been playing very well in the PBA. He (Ravena) accounted himself very well in the first window. It's hard not having our top point guard but this is an opportunity for Kiefer to step in and for Kevin to get a lot more minutes that he usually gets," said Gilas head coach Chot Reyes during the announcement of the lineup.
Against the Aussies, both guards will have to immediately get used to the playing time Reyes will give them.
Ravena, who averaged 5 points, 3 assists and 2 rebounds in Gilas' wins against Japan and Chinese Taipei, will see his 13.1 minutes per game rise as Reyes' first option at the point guard position while Alas has to acclimate himself with the atmosphere of international basketball after playing a mere 59 seconds in the entire duration of the Qualifiers' first window.
Although Reyes said that the void left by Castro, who normed 20 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5 assists in the first window, cannot be filled in by one guy, what they can do is to compensate for his absence collectively.
"There's no difference whether we have Jayson or not. Obviously, that's a big part of our offense. In terms of approach and style of play, it's going to be basically the same," said Reyes.
"Australia is very, very strong. They got size, speed, great shooting. It's going to be very difficult. We just got to find little ways to throw them off a little bit."
"Who knows, maybe we catch them in an off night and that will allow us to be competitive."
The Philippines and Australia lock horns 4:30 p.m. (Manila time) today, February 22, at the Margaret Court Arena in Melboure. Both teams are undefeated with identical 2-0 cards. – Rappler.com
Delfin Dioquino dreamt of being a PBA player, but he did not have the skills to make it. So he pursued the next best thing to being an athlete – to write about them. He took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and joined Rappler as soon as he graduated in 2017.