SBP President Al Panlilio (center) with Batang Gilas players and officials.

Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes was all praises for the country’s youth team following its successful stint in the FIBA Asia Under-16 Championship in Foshan, China last week.

The Batang Gilas finished fourth in the tournament and secured a spot in the FIBA Under-17 World Cup in Argentina in June.

“They went and achieved what we wanted to achieve, and that’s a slot in the World Cup,” Reyes said Tuesday night during the team’s homecoming press conference at Crowne Plaza.

This is only the second time that the Batang Gilas has qualified to the FIBA Under-17 World Cup, and they did so by edging Japan, 72-70, in a quarterfinal thriller on April 6.

Batang Gilas lost their last two games, including a nail-biting semifinal against China, 60-54, but it was still an impressive performance for the hastily assembled squad.

To Reyes, it is clear that the young players are well aware of “the tremendous obligation and responsibility” that they have as part of the national team.

“Every time we talk to these young men, we remind them that being in Batang Gilas, being in the Gilas program gives them an opportunity to tell their story, and have their story be a part of history – the history of Philippine basketball,” Reyes said.

“Let’s not forget that they are only 15, 16 years old,” he further pointed out. “To thrust them into this kind of spotlight and responsibility at this age will only make them better.”

Already, Reyes sees plenty of potential from players such as Kai Sotto and Raven Cortez, who will be part of the Gilas cadet team that will see action in the 2018 FilOil Flying V Preseason Cup.

Also giving a good account of themselves in Foshan were Terrence Fortea, a high-scoring guard from National University, and RC Calimag, whose clutch basket against Japan sent the Philippines to the World Cup.

“The sky is the limit,” Reyes stressed of the team. “The future is very promising for this group.”

What makes the future of Batang Gilas brighter is that there is a program in place to maximize their talents. It will be no surprise to see some of the teenagers “graduate” to the cadet program, and even be a part of the senior team down the road.

“This is the start,” as Reyes said. “We are blessed, fortunate to witness this time, when we can say that we were there form the start.” ABS-CBN SPORTS