• The sad saga of PH basketball

    Peter Cariño

    Conrad M. Cariño

    (Last of four parts)

    THE medal haul of the Philippines from the Incheon Asian Games should serve as an eye opener for Filipino sports officials and companies who are willing to invest money on athletes who have international medal potential.

    When the dust settled at Incheon, the Philippines got one gold courtesy of BMX rider Daniel Caluag. But the real eye opener was the medal haul from combat sports: Charly Suarez of boxing, and Jean Claude Saclag and Daniel Parantac of wushu won silvers; boxers Mark Barriga, Mario Fernandez and Wilfredo Lopez, karateka Mae Soriano, tae kwo do jins Benjamin Sembrano, Thomas Morrison, Mary Pelaez, Kirstie Elaine Alora and Ronna llao, and wushu artist Francisco Solis landed bronze medals. Notably, archer Paul Marlon dela Cruz also won a silver.

    What does the Filipino medal haul at Incheon show? Simple—Filipinos can excel greatly in combat sports, which have weight divisions that negate the need for size and heft to be victorious.

    But how much support does our combat-sports athletes get from the government and from the private sector? For sure, it pales in comparison to what basketball gets. Just how much is needed to bring to another country a 12-man cage team with its entourage to play exhibition or tune-up games?

    Although I agree that Gilas Pilipinas showed a lot of heart in the 2014 FIBA World Cup and the Incheon Asian Games, I have yet to hear a chorus from sports writers and commentators on how much heart our combat sports athletes showed in the Asian Games. This is very unfair!

    I wonder if most sports journalists know how hard it is for an amateur boxer to take hard blows in one night, and be prepared to take another set of hard blows the next night, just to gain a medal for the country. And other combat sports also require getting blows from an opponent.

    It actually irritated me as to how many times the “posterizing” dunks of some Gilas Pilipinas players were played over and over again in television during the Incheon games coverage (complete with the loud choruses of the commentators), when very few or none were given to our combat-sport athletes who brought home medals from Incheon.

    I am not saying that Filipinos should stop patronizing basketball because even if it is called a “contact sport,” it can be played by any physically-fit Filipino. Basketball also helps teach teamwork, and all that is needed is a basketball court and a decent ball.

    And let’s face it—truly excelling in combat sport requires willingness to take blows from an opponent and getting bruised, at the least. How many of us have the fortitude for that?

    But let us face it too—the country’s chances for a basketball medal in the international (not regional) arena may be light years away from today. Dreaming of a bronze in the next World FIBA meet or even the 2022 Olympics is actually a waste of time.

    While Filipinos can improve the way they play the game, and bigger and taller players can be available in the future, it is impossible that other countries will not learn to play the game better, and have bigger and taller players too. Just look at the Chinese team at Incheon—they had two seven-footers with one of them just 18 years old. And China is in a “rebuilding program” for its basketball team. We know how it is in China—national interest before anything else. So that means teams in their commercial league must be ready to loan their players for the national pool, or else. That can’t be done in the Philippines!

    I just hope that for the next Asian or other regional meets, our combat-sports athletes would get a lot of support during the preparatory stages and actual competition.

    Besides our combat athletes, our compatriots who excel in other sports like archery and shooting should be given adequate support. And there’s chess, and the latest news is Wesley So is now ranked 10th overall in the world rankings. Wow! But I heard that So had planned to change his allegiance, and I wonder how much effort the government and the private sector will make just to make sure So continues represents the Filipino flag in international meets?

    Reflecting on the case of So, how much is spent when the country recruits and “naturalizes” foreign players to boost its chances in international basketball? I am very sure the Chinese can teach us a lesson or two about national pride.


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