Give them a fighting chance
Tonight, Spain and Argentina will battle for the right to be called Fiba world champion. One of these two countries will end up celebrating in a rain of confetti before the curtains finally fall on basketball’s World Cup.
The Philippines will be reduced to spectator status, having flown home long before world No. 2 Spain and world No. 5 Argentina squeezed out dramatic semifinal victories to book tickets to the last dance.
Gilas Pilipinas, the team that represented the country in the World Cup, had flown home even before France hammered out the upset of the tournament, booting out diluted powerhouse United States in the quarterfinals.
The Filipinos spouted apology after apology upon arrival, and even before France had gotten waylaid in the semifinals by Argentina and its star Luis Scola’s throwback performance, Gilas Pilipinas was hit by the resignation of head coach Yeng Guiao.
The fiery mentor owned up to the Philippines’ winless, five-loss stint in China, before saying that his run as national coach was still the highlight of his career — and that even if he somehow foresaw the disastrous outcome, he’d still accept the head-coaching job.
Guiao also said he was resigning to give basketball’s national federation, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), the free hand to reboot the national program.
Where the SBP starts, though, remains a mystery. And it’s not because it would be difficult to find the black box amid the surveyed wreckage of the World Cup stint. No, the answers are there, all around, spread in viral fashion all over social media courtesy of even the most casual analyst.
The answers are laid out in the open for all to see. Lack of preparation. The schedule conflict wedged into the training calendar by the PBA championship. Lack of shooters. A mismatched style of play thoroughly picked apart in an international arena that rewards ball movement and accurate sniping. Lack of experience. Lack of size and athleticism.
What to start addressing right away is the problem, as well as the lack of political will to enforce reforms badly needed by the national program.
Heed the clamor to focus attention and limited resources on other sports where a physically hamstrung race can excel? Good point. But, like it or not, this is a basketball-crazy country, and basketball will lord it over all other sports, which means that majority of money allocated for sports will be dumped on basketball—it is, after all, still the most marketable sport.
Given that, would it be too much to ask basketball stakeholders to burn down political fences and get together to come up with a viable national program that would avert a repeat of this World Cup, where the Philippine squad was ran through European shredders?
A basketball-smart public has stopped looking at moral victories in the World Cup — or maybe it intentionally shifted its gaze away after horrible routs at the hands of Italy and Serbia. Even the applause generated by the team sounded like petty philanthropy; fans just couldn’t find it in their hearts to pile up on their beloved Gilas Pilipinas.
But the SBP must be held accountable. The PBA, too. These two bodies, the largest stakeholders in the national team, must find the political strength to impose wholesale, painful changes so that guys like June Mar Fajardo, Troy Rosario and RR Pogoy are not robbed of valuable preparation time with the national team, because they have to play a championship series in the pro league. So that we can employ a naturalized player who would always be in tiptop shape when called to suit up for the country. So that the coach can adequately prepare by playing against opponents who best represent the type of game played in international arenas.
No one is asking both bodies to form a team that would be playing on the last day of the World Cup, the way Spain and Argentina will later tonight. All that is being asked of the SBP, with the PBA’s help, is a sustainable program that will allow the country’s best players to represent the country with a fighting chance, instead of getting blown away in first quarters.
For the PBA to say it has always been lending its players to the national cause is like asking a medal for mere participation; it is not merely the lending of players, but also freeing them from club obligations to train with the national team.
The need for a tough response from both SBP and PBA is urgent.
The next time Gilas Pilipinas will set foot in a World Cup court is in 2023, when the country will host basketball’s centerpiece tournament.
It’s one thing to get kicked around by the top countries in the World Cup. It’s another thing to receive those beatings at home.
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