Just a week ago, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), the country’s National Sports Association for basketball, elected its new board of trustees and officers. Known sportsman and business mogul Manuel V. Pangilinan (MVP) and twelve other officials that served the federation for ten years officially ended their watch on August 8, 2016, paving the way for the new set of trustees. The newly-elected board of trustees then elected the officers led by Meralco executive Al Panlilio as President, Senator Sonny Angara as Chairman, Congressman Robbie Puno as Vice Chairman, and Ateneo official Ricky Palou as Treasurer. Sonny Barrios was retained as Executive Director.
Panlilio, a former Ateneo Blue Eagle and current team governor of the Meralco Bolts in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), will surely have big shoes to fill after the many accomplishments of the SBP under MVP. Under MVP’s two terms as President, the Philippine National Men’s Team, called Gilas Pilipinas, made great strides in international competitions that moved the country up in the FIBA rankings to No. 28 (and third in Asia after China and Iran) from being in the 40’s for a long time. SBP started the Gilas Program in 2008 with the hiring of Serbian hoops tactician Rajko Toroman, who was credited for Iran’s rise as an Asian basketball power. Toroman’s crew, which was composed of mostly collegiate standouts, managed to attain fourth spot in the 2011 Asian Championship, which is a quantum leap from the eighth place finish two years earlier by an all-pro squad. In 2013, an all-PBA Gilas unit under multi-titled PBA coach Chot Reyes claimed the silver in Asia that qualified the Philippines to the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain. It marked the country’s return to the basketball world map after a long dry spell. In Spain, Gilas even scored a victory over tough African team Senegal. In the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship, Gilas took second spot again, this time under American coach Tab Baldwin, who led New Zealand to a fourth place finish in the 2001 World Championships. During this period, the SBP was able to recruit two American players that were naturalized to suit up for Gilas. First was former Providence star Marcus Douthit, who played in the 2011 and 2013 Asian Championships. In 2014, former Brooklyn Nets power forward Andray Blatche joined the squad and led Gilas to a respectable showing in the World Cup in the same year.
Another main achievement by SBP was the Philippines’ hosting of three major FIBA events – 2011 FIBA Asia Champions Cup, 2013 FIBA Asia Championship and 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
But Panlilio is no stranger to the efforts of SBP as he was a major part of the group. He heads the MVP Sports Foundation, which bankrolls many of SBP’s projects in the last ten years.
However, the challenges for SBP are greater now than ever. Many Asian countries have bolstered their national teams in the last few years and have become a threat to Gilas. This forces the SBP to likewise give the National Team another shot in the arm. Moreover, the new format introduced by FIBA for the qualifications for the World Cup and Olympics, which now includes home-and-away games in six windows within a two-year qualification period, could also pose more obstacles for SBP particularly in making the PBA players available for Gilas. Thankfully, the SBP started to address the issue by forming a 24-man pool mainly from the amateur ranks that will train regularly under Baldwin.
Apart from Gilas, SBP must also boost the youth, women’s and 3-on-3 teams. Recently, the Batang Gilas squad ended its 2016 FIBA Under-18 Asia Championship campaign at seventh place behind Iran, Japan, Korea, Lebanon, China and Chinese Taipei. Perlas Pilipinas, the women’s national team, is currently ranked 49th in the world and even trails Southeast Asian neighbors Malaysia (No. 43) and Thailand (No. 45). More importantly, SBP needs to strengthen the country’s grassroots program to teach future cage heroes the proper fundamentals of the game. This is a Herculean task considering that it must cover the entire country.
But hopes are high with the new leadership on board. Congratulations to the new officers and we wish SBP the best.