Gilas Pilipinas’ Justine Baltazar. FIBA ASIA CUP PHOTO

If Chot Reyes can have his way, he’d want to have La Salle ace Justine Baltazar and former high school standout Carl Tamayo in Gilas Pilipinas’ talent pool for the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) World Cup qualifying games later this month.

But timing, just like for countless times in the past, continues to torment the national cage program.

The pair of big men is already neck-deep in preparations with their respective schools for the upcoming collegiate season, and given the importance of their roles, they have no recourse but to beg off from flag duties.

“[Justine] is currently immersed in our school bubble and actually turned down two offers from Japan to play his final year with La Salle and graduate,” La Salle coach Derrick Pumaren told the Inquirer.

A key part of the University of the Philippines’ (UP) rebuild, Tamayo has found himself in a similar predicament.

Tough protocols

“Our team is composed of 12 rookies and we entered our bubble this January and have only begun our team practices last week. The team barely knows each other, and we need to focus on the upcoming [University Athletic Association of the Philippines or UAAP] this March,” said Goldwyn Monteverde, who brought with him Tamayo from Nazareth School of National University.

UAAP’s protocols—owing to the league’s amateur nature—are also proving to be less forgiving, meaning there are very few workarounds for the national cage program to use in the little time it has for the Fiba games that unfurl Feb. 24 at the Big Dome.

“We are currently in a bubble setup, and we are required to undergo a seven-day quarantine period before we can join our practices again,” Monteverde said in a separate interview.

“With this situation, it would be really hard for the team to let anybody from the bubble leave because it will take a lot of time to be able to join again,” he went on.

The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), if anything, said it is keeping constant communication to both schools to secure both talents for future Gilas tours.

For now, the national federation is applying a band-aid solution by using TNT’s nucleus which will be backstopped by naturalized big man Ange Kouame and Dwight Ramos, who planed back home on Friday after getting the call to play.

For future use

Ramos will miss at least six games for Toyama in the Japan B.League.

“We were wishing them to join us—both Tamayo and Baltazar,” said SBP president Al Panlilio. “Maybe too tight [of a window to reel them in], but we’re still trying.”

“Hopefully, moving forward, beyond February, we can talk to both UP and La Salle to make sure that they’re still part of the lineup that will eventually [be sent] to the 2023 World Cup,” he went on.

Fortunately for the program, the feeling is mutual. Both Pumaren and Monteverde insist that they would love to have their charges play for the national team again as soon as the collegiate season is done.

“[Justine’s] grateful for his Gilas experience and the SBP’s support in giving him the opportunity to play for our country, it’s something he will forever cherish. He hopes there will be opportunities in the near future where he can once again represent our country,” said Pumaren.

“We would want Carl to continue his Gilas training as soon as Season 84 is done,” Monteverde said.

Ricky Vargas, who chairs the Philippine Basketball Association, stressed that there are several capable players outside the pro league, which is why he couldn’t stress enough the importance of nurturing relationships with institutions belonging to the collegiate ranks.

“The PBA is not the only stakeholder in this [national team venture],” he said. “We also have to reach out to the UAAP. There are very good players there for the World Cup. We have to also reach out to the other leagues, the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), and all that.”

“We want to get the best players that we can, so we’re seeking everyone’s cooperation,” he added.

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