MANILA, Feb 10 (Mabuhay) — The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) has expressed openness to having the Gilas Pilipinas Men playing in the PBA Philippine Cup this season.

“We’re definitely open to the idea of playing in the PBA,” SBP president Al Panlilio said on Tuesday.

The PBA board of governors agreed Monday to invite the Gilas Men to the season-opening conference, which will begin on April 9.

Panlilio, who is also Meralco’s representative to the PBA board, expressed his gratitude for the invite.

“The SBP is thankful to PBA commissioner Willie Marcial and the board of governors for extending an invitation to Gilas Pilipinas to join their competitions this season,” he said. “The PBA has been a valuable partner to the SBP and this invitation-only reasserts the league’s commitment to helping our Gilas Pilipinas program in whatever way they can.”

However, the final backbone of how the Gilas Men will play in the PBA Philippine Cup will only be discussed right after the team is done playing in the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers.

“Once the team arrives from Doha, we will sit down with the PBA to discuss this matter further,” Panlilio said.

The setup is not new in the PBA.

The idea of having the national team playing in the PBA as a guest team began during the mid-’80s when the Danding Cojuangco-backed Nationals joined the league under the Northern Consolidated Cement (NCC) banner, eventually winning the 1985 Reinforced Conference championship.

The NCC remains the only all-amateur team to capture a title in Asia’s premier professional basketball league.

The SBP also did the trick in 2011 when it brought in the original Gilas Men squad as a temporary replacement to the Red Bull franchise, which took a leave of absence that time, for the said conference, which has since been renamed the Commissioner’s Cup.

While a six-foot-four height limit was set for imports then, the PBA allowed 6-foot-11 naturalized player Marcus Douthit to reinforce Gilas Men.

The team booked an outright semifinal seat in the Commissioner’s Cup but was knocked out by Ginebra, featuring eventual Best Import winner Nate Brumfield, in the round.

Panlilio said having the national team as a guest squad in the PBA is beneficial for the players’ chemistry.

“We know the value of being able to play games against PBA teams on a regular basis as evidenced by the exploits of Smart-Gilas 1 back in 2011,” he said. “Training is important for any team but you learn a lot about your teammates when you go up against strong opposition.” (MNS)

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