Promising high school player Caelum Harris is set to represent the Philippine national Under-17 basketball team. But even at only 16 years old, the young Harris is already hard at work doing double shifts.
He has been attending training sessions of both the U-17 team and the Gilas Pilipinas men’s team, and he even got his baptism of fire on Saturday, seeing action in a tuneup games against the NLEX Road Warriors.
This early, Gilas coach Chot Reyes already has plans for Harris as a future mainstay for the national team.
“We’ve always said that Caelum is going to start early and planning to make him a fixture in the men’s team. Hindi lang natin siya isinama sa SEA Games kasi nag-overlapped yung schedule sa FIBA Asia Under-17. He’s going to miss 10 or 11 days of practice kapag sumama siya sa Vietnam. But he continues to come and continues to practice with us,” Reyes told GMA News Online.
“In the future tournaments, in the future windows, he will make the men’s lineup. You could see that the few minutes that we played him, he made contributions to the team.”
The 6-foot-7 forward saw limited minutes, but had a positive impact on a Gilas team that played minus Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena — who are expected to arrive from Japan on May 10 — Matthew Wright and guard Kib Montalbo, who was in street clothes.
Reyes says the plan for the youngster out of Stewarts Creek High School is to represent the youth squad, but the exposure of playing with the men’s team and facing off against pros such as Calvin Oftana and Don Trollano, like in the tuneup game this weekend, will only help develop Harris.
But eventually his experience in the age-group competitions should be the first steps in preparing him for his eventual stint with the Gilas men’s squad.
“Kasi ayaw naman nating mabilis, doing more harm than good. That’s why we felt when he gets the experience playing in the Under-17, remember ang kalaban nila sa Under-17, Australia, New Zealand, ang lalakas, Iran, that’s very high quality competition. Step by step. He goes through that first before natin siya isabak dito,” Reyes said.
The coach added that they don’t want to overload the youngster, which is why the priority is on his stint with the Under-17 squad, at least for the moment.
But Harris has been gung-ho about attending twice-a-day sessions, soaking up as much experience as he can.
“I feel like it’s an honor to represent the country. I need to play for the men’s team at a young age and get me ready for the next level,” Harris said.
“I’m gonna play as much as I can.”
He shared that he attends the Gilas training in the mornings and youth team practices in the evening, but also hits the weight room and first in school work in between the two schedules.
Despite the packed days, he’s loving every moment of it, especially with the style of play he’s seen here.
“I like how we play at a fast pace, getting the ball up and down the court. It fits my playing style. It’s a little bit more aggressive than in the States, that’s one of the adjustments,” Harris said.
“I like the physicality, too. It kinda teaches you how to be physical. At least in the men’s team, it’s physical for me, but I guess when I go to the youth team, it’s kinda easier when you go to the basket and make tougher shots,” he added.
Another young prospect that has been making a good account of himself is LeBron Lopez, one of the holdovers from the previous Gilas team coached by Tab Baldwin.
(Photo: NLEX Road Warriors/Facebook)
Reyes and NLEX coach Yeng Guiao, himself a former national team mentor, both praised Lopez for his performance in Saturday’s tuneup game.
“Not only the energy, but also his overall game (Saturday) is very satisfactory. We continue working on his decision-making, him and Jaydee Tungcab as well as Caelum Harris have to understand how they can use their talent with what their teammates want to do,” Reyes said.
“I thought today was very good for LeBron not only offensively, but defensively. There was still some instances where he made a few mistakes, but compared to when they started, I thought he made strides for it.”
“His upside is very high. A lot of potential. He’s young. It’s the first time I saw him live playing the game. He’s very athletic. I think he’s going to do well,” Guiao added.
“At this level, I think it’s a good competition for him. It’s going to give him experience in the international scene.”
Guiao believes that Lopez has the physical gifts to be successful and will be able to achieve a lot once he gains more experience and learns how to read the game better.
The veteran coach also approved of Reyes’s strategy of giving the young players the reps even at this early stage, something he himself has done in the past with a then-16-year-old Kai Sotto during their preparations for the Asian Games in 2018.
“That’s the way it’s going to help these guys also develop, not only as basketball players, but also developing their personality. They’re in good hands with the coaching staff,” Guiao said.
“Magandang abangan itong dalawang bata na ito.”
—JMB, GMA News