Uichico named Gilas Pilipinas coach for FIBA qualifiers

Nine-time PBA champion head coach and long-time Gilas Pilipinas Men’s Team assistant coach Jong Uichico will be at the helm for the national team heading into the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers later this month.

This was announced by Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas President Al Panlilio during an online press conference Thursday afternoon.

“I’m very happy to share with you the members of the coaching staff. The head coach is Jong Uichico, assistant coach is Boyet Fernandez, and the skills coach is Alton Lister,” Panlilio said.

Uichico has a lot of experience coaching younger versions of the national team as he led the squad to winning gold medals in the 2013 and 2017 Southeast Asian Games.

“It’s new but it’s a welcome challenge. The players are young and inexperienced so we’re keeping things as simple as possible,” said Uichico. “You need more teaching without making things too complicated. The players are willing learners so that’s a positive we can look forward to. We have a few more practices before we leave on Sunday and before we play our first game in Bahrain.”

For SBP Chairman Emeritus Manny V. Pangilinan, it was important to send a team to represent the Philippines not just to show the country’s commitment to FIBA but also to give Filipino basketball fans something to look forward to.

“FIBA was concerned that since the start of the pandemic, there were no significant basketball events that were held. The November window was supposed to be postponed to February but FIBA decided to push through,” Pangilinan said.

“We supported that because it’s similar with the path that the NBA has taken and with the PBA. FIBA has taken note of what we have done here in the Philippines with the PBA. We want to return to as near normal times as we can and since basketball is huge, we want to show that we will not be imprisoned by this virus. We’ll stand up to it. It’s a great credit to our players both in the PBA level and this younger team to answer the call to service.”

Gilas Pilipinas Men’s Team Program Director Tab Baldwin also gave an update on how the team’s training has been going.

“It is a very short time to identify a roster to play in this game and put a team together but we’ve been identifying players for a long time now. These players have been notified in advance,” Baldwin said.

“With such a young and inexperienced team, we’re looking at chemistry instead of developing a complex tactical system. We’ve been spending our time here trying to introduce some concepts that we have to expect against Thailand, Indonesia, and Korea. I have to credit the players in the bubble. They’ve dedicated themselves to one another and to the Gilas program. It’s still a long way to go and a short time to get there.”

Baldwin further explained that they’re dealing with the limitations caused by the pandemic while being aware that all the other countries are dealing with the same challenges as well.

“The pivotal word we would use is compromise. When your time is constricted as it is, you’re not able to use as many varieties of offenses and defenses. You just have to cover the basics,” Baldwin said. “We’re still not sure who we’re going to play and how many times we’re going to play these teams. We know we’ll play Thailand and that we’d most likely play them twice. Most of our attention has been developing chemistry and developing concepts of international basketball with our focus on Thailand.”

The uncertainty about the schedule is brought about by questions surrounding South Korea’s entry into the tournament and Indonesia’s request to play more games in Bahrain.

“We’ve been in discussions with FIBA that we want to follow the competition calendar that they have given us. We were ready to play Thailand twice including the game we lost to the lockdown and South Korea,” Panlilio stated. “They want us to play Indonesia but we don’t feel it’s fair to us because it’s not supposed to be on the schedule for us until February.”

“The original schedule was Thailand, Korea, and Thailand again. Korea has indicated to FIBA that they will not be able to participate so technically if a team does not show up, they should forfeit the game but it’s not clear yet what sanctions they would impose to Korea,” Pangilinan added.

“We’re happy to play with Indonesia anytime as they’re there already. If it’s a friendly game, I don’t think it should be a problem. But if it’s a rated game, it might be a question for us.”

The SBP stated, however, that they will be more than happy not just to play against Indonesia but actually host the games in the Philippines this February for the next window.

“We’re willing to host our own bubble here, but we can even host two more groups, which would be about six to eight teams,” the SBP President said.