The National Under-18 Youth basketball team called Batang Gilas recently bowed out of contention in the 2016 FIBA Asia Championship in Tehran, Iran after an 85-93 defeat at the hands of Korea in the quarterfinals.
The Nationals, composed of mostly fresh high school graduates from various schools, went 2-4 (win-loss) in the tournament before the classification phase, with wins over Iraq (96-79) and India (105-82), and losses to Chinese-Taipei (74-88), China (66-95), Thailand (71-74), and then Korea in the quarters. China repeated over them in the first classification match, 85-55.
Surely, this wasn’t the result we expected as the previous batch managed to make it to the 2014 World Championship after finishing second in the Asian joust. As disappointing as it is, we can’t ask for more from coach Mike Oliver and his gallant crew that barely had enough preparation for the tournament due to conflict in schedule of the different schools. In fact, several mainstays of the team had to skip the Asian Championship as it runs smack into their schools’ tournament calendar, including the on-going National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA). After the national tryouts early this year, Batang Gilas could only practice once or twice a week, and without a complete attendance most of the time.
But this has always been a problem for both Gilas and Batang Gilas. Players are committed to their respective teams as in the case of pro and college or high school players. Often times too, their mother teams are not willing to lend them to the National Team. In this Batang Gilas batch for instance, at least four regulars begged off because their schools did not give them clearance. Oliver was forced to make big adjustments in the roster with barely a month before the tournament.
Now that we’re seeing other Asian countries make a quantum leap in international competitions, it’s imperative that the Batang Gilas program also gets a shot in the arm. Thailand, for instance, has become more and more competitive over the last few years, and now succeeded in beating the Philippines in Iran. India, Malaysia, Chinese-Taipei and Lebanon are likewise improving in youth basketball.
The Batang Gilas Program must be made similar to their men’s team counterpart. The candidates must be identified early on so training can be year-round, even when the FIBA competitions are a year away. A pool of 20 players can start training at least once a week just to get gradually acquainted with the coach’s system and with each other. Four to six months before the competition, the training should pick up the pace with more frequent sessions, say thrice a week. But two months before the tournament, the team should be practicing with a complete roster of the final 12 to 15 players on a daily basis.
There also has to be a stronger commitment from the leagues and schools to allow the top prospects to don the national colors. Perhaps the University Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP) and NCAA can also be requested to adjust their schedule or take a brief break during major FIBA competitions like the Asian and World Championships.
Also, it would be ideal for the Batang Gilas Program to work hand-in-hand with the Gilas organization. National Men’s Team mentor Tab Baldwin can help the youth squad with his expertise in international competition. Perhaps he can also impart some of the Gilas system to Batang Gilas. After all, a good number of the Batang Gilas boys are likely to form the Gilas Pilipinas National Men’s squad in a few years.
Lastly, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) and private sector must collaborate to send the team to as many international trips as possible to get used to this kind of competition, which is far different from the high school and college games here.
It’s about time we bolster the program in the youth level as what most other countries do. With everybody joining hands – SBP, leagues and schools – we will have a better chance in FIBA tournaments and start our climb to the top of Asian Youth basketball.