Gilas Pilipinas absorbed its first defeat in the 2019 FIBA World Cup qualifying tournament, at the hands of world powerhouse Australia, which is ranked 10th in the world. But even in hostile territory, the Philippine National team, made up of Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) stars, was impressive particularly in the first half against the home team in Melbourne, Australia. They led 30-25 in the second period before the taller Aussies staged a strong rally in the final few minutes before halftime.
The second half clearly belonged to the heavily favored Aussies as they pounced on Gilas with their aggressive pressure defense and superb transition offense. It also didn’t help the Filipinos’ cause that they missed twelve out of nineteen foul shots. On the other hand, Australia sank 25-of-32 from the stripe. Jayson Castro was unable to suit up in Melbourne after an ankle injury. He could’ve made a huge impact for Gilas. But anyway, the undefeated Australians are No. 1 in the FIBA Asia zone and were expected to win. The final count was 84-68.
There were also some positives in the game, like Gilas’ half court defense. I thought they handled Australia’s half court sets pretty well. Then, there’s June Mar Fajardo, who fired 15 points, mostly on post up plays versus tall and hefty defenders. Naturalized import Andray Blatche only scored eight markers.
Now, there are more ways to help the National Team in future games. And the PBA can do more than just lend its players for important FIBA games. Perhaps it can slowly apply the FIBA interpretation of the rules, similar to FIBA tournaments. The league can still maintain some of its house rules like playing 48 minutes on twelve minutes per quarter instead of the FIBA standard of 40 minutes on ten minutes per period. But it would benefit the Gilas players a lot if the PBA and FIBA have identical interpretation of the rules of the game, especially on fouls. Gilas committed 23 fouls against Australia resulting to 25 points from free throws. Since most, if not all, Gilas players are in the PBA, they’re used to the way PBA games are officiated whole year round. Newly appointed commissioner Willie Marcial seems to be Gilas-friendly. Maybe the PBA and SBP can collaborate to apply the FIBA interpretation in the PBA games’ officiating. This would surely go a long way in the preparations of Gilas. And by 2023 when the country hosts the Basketball World Cup, the Gilas squad would likely have an easier time playing by the rules.
Aside from this, perhaps the PBA can also allow the Gilas players to spend more time with the National team training before an important tournament. Ideally, they should have a minimum two months full-time with Gilas before the FIBA games. But this has always been a huge challenge since the PBA plays close to ten months. What usually happens is that Gilas players are forced to attend two practices in a day, one for the National team and the other for their mother team in the PBA. This is surely wearing on the players and could even result to injuries. What I’m proposing is for the Gilas players to skip one PBA conference, the one closest to an important FIBA tourney, such as the Asian Championship or World Cup. It has been done in the past. The PBA can be creative in trying to balance the competition in the absence of Gilas players, like allowing more imports (or a taller import) to teams that have the most players on loan to the National team. If Gilas was able to give the Aussies a good fight with limited training, imagine what they could do with a solid 2-3 months of full-time training.
This entails a lot of sacrifice on the part of the PBA, I know. But the success of the Gilas program also lies heavily on the support of the PBA since it has the rights on the country’s top players. Now that the competition in Asia is at a very high level because of the merger with the Oceania region, Gilas needs all the help it can get.