Kiefer guiding next gen Gilas guards Abarrientos, Belangel for bigger roles

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As early as now, Kiefer Ravena is making sure the next batch of Gilas Pilipinas mainstay guards are primed up for bigger roles ahead.

Besides, one of the most tenured men’s senior national team members in spite of just being 28 years old is already beginning to feel old.

“Sarap kasama (ng mas batang players). Nagiging bata ako. Nakakatawa kasi every time nagfi-fill-up kami ng form, nakikita ko ‘yung teammates ko, born 2000, born 1999, may sumisingit na 1993 doon,” Ravena jokingly shared shortly after the team’s 79-63 win over India last Sunday in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 Asian Qualifiers third window.

“Nakakatuwa kasi kasama pa rin ako sa process na pagiging better as a player, better individual, I’m willing to learn from these young men.”

Ravena understands that it will only be a matter of time before the likes of RJ Abarrientos and SJ Belangel succeeds him in the backcourt position.

And the six-time SEA Games medalist is already preparing them well for the eventual transition by taking a step back and letting them lead the current Gilas roster which is composed of a mix of collegiate stars and overseas-based Asian imports.

“RJ, SJ, the guards, I kind of took it upon myself to take them under my wings especially both of them are going overseas,” Ravena bared, mentioning that he is making a conscious effort to guide the two younger backcourt generals.

“Every time na magusap kami through breakfast, lunch, or dinner, on and off the court, ‘yung mga batang ‘yun,” he added, making sure to impart pointers or even just simple life lessons to the Korean Basketball League-bound guards.

Of course, Ravena still led by example, being the designated captain of the nationals for the third window. He scored 12 points and dished out four assists, as coach Nenad Vucinic’s wards managed to dispatch India with relative ease even with a depleted 10-man rotation.

Ravena added that he always pushes them to lead while they are inside the court, similar to how his Kuyas have been doing the same when Ravena was still the youngster in a PBA-laden national team a couple of years back.

“Pinapabayaan ko sila to lead the team. ‘Yung pagiging captain ko, andiyan lang naman ‘yan eh, label lang naman ‘yan. Pagsasabihan ko lang sila, ganito nangyayari ngayon, paano niyo gagawin ‘to. Parang, if somebody is taking a day off in practice, anong gagawin natin. Ganun lang yung role ko sa team,” he expounded.

“Pag kailangan na magstep-in, doon lang ako nags-step in but more or less, team naman nilang dalawa ‘to eh. I’m just out there guiding them.”

At just 22 and 23 years of age respectively, Abarrientos and Belangel, are no stranger to international basketball, having starred for the then Tab Baldwin-coached Gilas team of 2021 which made impressive strides when it beat Korea twice and also performed well against Serbia in the 2021 FIBA Olympic Qualifying tournament.

Playing alongside them first-hand all the more makes Ravena feel the future of the Gilas backcourt is in good hands.

And fans will see more of Abarrientos and Belangel in the upcoming 2022 FIBA Asia Cup in Indonesia, where the Philippines is set to face Lebanon, New Zealand, and India in the group stage starting next week.

Just don’t expect Ravena to join them in TikTok videos that often anymore, as the designated Gilas “old head” is excluding himself from their “generation”.

“Itong mga ‘to, magagaling ‘tong mga batang ‘to, sana magtuloy-tuloy lang dahil iba pa rin ‘yung magkakaedad kayo eh, pare-parehas ang trip, pare-parehas mahilig sa TikTok, malaking bagay ‘yun off the court for the chemistry,” he closed. “Nakiki-trending na lang ako sa kanila ngayon.”

All photos from Roy Secretario/Sports Bytes Philippines

Levi Verora