MANILA, Philippines – A gaping hole in the middle.
That is the problem Gilas Pilipinas will try to fix in its buildup for the first window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers as it is set to miss talented big men Christian Standhardinger and Japeth Aguilar.
Standhardinger decided to sit out the first window due to a nagging left knee issue, while Aguilar begged off to go on a honeymoon trip with his wife Cassy.
"Obviously, what's a little bit alarming is it seems all of our problems are resting on our big men right now," said national team program director Tab Baldwin.
"It's tough to play without your big men," added Baldwin, with the team relying on Isaac Go and Poy Erram to step up in the absence of Aguilar and Standhardinger.
Although Standhardinger looked as strong as a bull in the last PBA Governors' Cup when he won Best Player of the Conference, he said his knee has become a problem after he took time off basketball.
The same knee issue hobbled him in past PBA conferences and at times sidelined him for a number of games.
"What I need to do now is that I'm building up my knee, I'm building up the muscles, and then I will be ready after this window if there's a need for me and if they want me," Standhardinger said.
"The injury will always be there for the rest of my career. But like I said, there are things that I can do so I can still play on a high level."
Standhardinger, who said he learned late that he was part of the 24-man pool, said he would be ready for the next windows.
"[I]f they need me, they will communicate with me, and I will know I can go hard and I can get myself ready at the peak moment because you don't want to play for the national team if you can't give your best."
Meanwhile, Aguilar took advantage of the long break to celebrate his marriage with wife Cassy, whom he tied the knot with back in October.
Also, Aguilar played non-stop basketball last year, seeing aciton in the FIBA World Cup and Southeast Asian Games before capping his impressive season with a Governors' Cup title with Barangay Ginebra.
"He's informed us that he's going on a delayed honeymoon. Congratulations to him," Baldwin said. "He's not available for the first window."
Compensating for their lack in size are their youth and energy. (READ: 19 present as Gilas begins prep for FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers)
Except for Marc Pingris, 38, and Erram, 30, the other members of the pool – which consists of a mix of PBA and collegiate players – are in their 20s.
"We're a team that will be identified by energy, because of the youth here and speed. But we better learn and learn how to play together," Baldwin said.
Gilas Pilipinas will continue to practice daily until it hosts Thailand on February 20 and tangles with Indonesia in a road game on February 23. – 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.