Mendoza: Peal to Al and Willie

Al Mendoza
·2 min read

June Mar Fajardo could be in. But not Jayson Castro.

Okay, add Angelo Kouame. But in August yet if Congress delivers the goods.

That sums up basically the prospects for Gilas Pilipinas in its continuing Fiba Asia Cup campaign.

After more than a year since he suffered a season-sidelining shin injury, Fajardo, the 6-foot-10 pillar of San Miguel’s record-breaking five straight PBA Philippine Cup run from 2015, is battle ready once again.

The six-time PBA Most Valuable Player has been back training after getting green-lighted for it by his famed bone surgeon Dr. Raul Canlas.

Recalling Fajardo back to Gilas is a must, especially now that South Korea is back in the Fiba’s third window set at AUF gym in Pampanga on Feb. 18 to 22.

We play the fearsome Koreans twice and Indonesia once.

While we need just one win in those three games to advance to the 2021 Fiba Asia Cup proper in August, we must not be too confident as to underestimate our foes.

History-wise, the Koreans, as I keep saying, have always been a tough nut to crack, so to speak. Good as they’ve always been since time immemorial, they have even added a naturalized player in Ricardo Ratliffe, the former PBA import of Purefoods.

We no longer have a naturalized player for Gilas since our former American “imports,” Marcus Douthit and Andre Blatche, have outlived their usefulness.

Kouame, the towering African center of Ateneo in the UAAP, can only be eligible for Gilas inclusion in the August Fiba Cup proper when Congress finally approves his naturalization papers.

But a big loss for Gilas will ensue if Castro could not recover from his injury, creating a yawning gap at the guard position.

We have many good guards to choose from, yes, but the most suitable one must be harnessed now as the tournament is barely four weeks away from blastoff.

And aren’t many of the aspirants, mostly Filipino-Americans among the 29 hopefuls, still vacationing in the US?

I know that SBP president Al Panlilio and PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial have been working their butts off to come up with the perfect Gilas squad.

But let’s make the pedal hit metal if need be, please?

Time, as always, is of the essence.