When my friends saw Allen Liwag getting a last-second invite to join the Gilas Pilipinas cadet pool, the first thought we got is that he'll probably transfer to Ateneo a couple of seasons later.
Poor EAC Generals can't get a break if this happens. After almost making the NCAA Season 97 Play-In, their alums underperformed in the 2022 PBA Draft with CJ Cadua going to San Miguel in the sixth round and team captain Marwin Taywan getting the undrafted tag.
I thought both men are at least third to fourth round-worthy.
It's a good thing for Liwag though. Whether or not the perception takes place, he has at least secured a probable second-round spot with this last-minute invite - joining the likes of UP Fighting Maroon Ricci Rivero (fresh off a championship) and under-16 mainstay Caelum Harris.
Anyway, this is the news in June 2022.
Wait, let me get my Gilas cadet list.
Harris is only 16 years old with Rivero being the oldest of the add-ons at 24 years of age. Liwag is about to turn 21 in July - which makes him a justifiable name to enter the list.
But now, here comes the fun part. Most Gilas Pilipinas players have a tendency to falter. Whether it's a case of sharpshooters transforming into playmakers (Chris Tiu) or superstars becoming role players (Dylan Ababou), becoming part of a roster before joining the PBA somewhat gives the pro teams a glimpse of what he could do after his college career.
The other thing about being in Gilas is their age. Past incarnations of the cadet program give off the vibe that they are playing their primes before even making a serious profit off their capabilities.
Some of the big names entered the draft beyond the 25-year-old mark and it really messed up their pro career.
Calvin Abueva, Paul Lee, and June Mar Fajardo were names floated as potential add-ons but never really got the chance to suit up for the squad in any shape or form. Rabeh Al-Hussaini is an early out - with Rey Guevarra and RJ Jazul requesting their releases following the entries of Marcus Douthit (or whoever was the naturalization candidate back then), Marcio Lassiter, and Chris Lutz. Aldrech Ramos, JR Cawaling, Magi Sison, and Greg Slaughter were part of the program but barely got to play in major tournaments because they are also competing in the UAAP.
Between 2009 and 2019, we have seen the likes of Kevin Alas, Bobby Ray Parks, Kobe Paras, Kiefer Ravena, Thirdy Ravena, Borgie Hermida, Almond Vosotros, and Garvo Lanete getting the nod to play and practice with the squad.
As of their draft years, Chris Tiu opted to play for the team until Rajko Toroman's departure - employ the "will he" or "will he not" tactic with the Ateneo guard juggling a lot of non-basketball related activities. I think JR Cawaling had an injury which is why he stayed out of the PBA for far too long and Greg Slaughter came from the UV Lancers and stayed with Ateneo to give the school a bunch of titles before maxing out his eligibility.
In the events leading to the 2016 PBA Draft, the league decided to make a special draft to select 12 cadets for each team. The draft was held in private and without any cameras... and I think the draft is shady as hell.
Anyway, Fonso Gotladera was added to the list because the other player in the pool, Almond Vosotros, has already been drafted in the PBA. This incarnation proved to be a hit or miss because while it gave the likes of Gotladera, Arnold Van Opstal, Russel Escoto, Von Pessumal, and Carl Bryan Cruz a chance to play in the PBA All-Star Game, only a handful of these players were able to play in the major tournaments because they were also competing with the PBA players.
I guess this is by far, the worst age group we have seen. They were also the least fortunate. They played in very few international events and for the 2019 guys, they had to contend with nearly three years of little to no action. Rey Suerte and Allyn Bulanadi rarely stepped into the court for Gilas and for Suerte - he going to like this only in the financial sense because he is about to turn 30 in two years. Jordan Heading ultimately chose to play in Taiwan so giving him to Terrafirma is like giving a top-of-the-line gun without any bullets. And there are guys like Tzaddy Rangel and Jaydee Tungcab - who are both expected to ride the benches of NLEX and TNT (Rangel is part of NLEX's 3X3 squad).
If you look at it, only Will Navarro really benefited from this team because he is still part of the cadet pool and we have seen the improvements in his game.
The 2022 version of Gilas Pilipinas cadets are reminiscent with the original Smart-Gilas squad. However, it's great that 2022 PBA Gilas cadet squad isn't as restricted as their previous versions with Justin Arana, Shaun Ildefonso, Gian Mamuyac, and Javi Gomez de Liano only on call to play for the team when their numbers are called upon.
I understand that the success of Gilas Pilipinas must be the end goal of our quest to gain worldwide recognition. There must be steps to take care the college stars though. Yes, sometimes the college stars need to exert their will because by design, these players are added to the pool because they can live up to expectations.
But also think this same blueprint is what's leading some of them to messed up and underachieving careers.