• The sad saga of PH basketball

    Peter Cariño

    Conrad M. Cariño

    (First of three parts)

    While I felt a sense of satisfaction over how the Gilas Pilipinas basketball team performed at the recent 2014 FIBA World championships in Spain, the reality is the outcome reflects the sad saga Philippine basketball.

    I would rather call it a sad saga than a sad situation, because I believe that among the sports in the Philippines, it is basketball that gets the biggest spending. Just calculate how much is spent by teams in the Philippine Basketball Association and its development league, and by universities and colleges for their college teams. Then how much is spent for the national team? The overall figures can be mind-boggling.

    But when it comes to garnering honors from the international field, basketball cannot compare to boxing, yet. Let’s face it—boxing has so far given the Philippines much to be proud of, particularly in the professional arena. Just look at how Pancho Villa, Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, Luisito Espinosa, Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire, just to name a few, have brought pride to the Philippines with their world-conquering performances.

    And in other sports like chess, Wesley So has demonstrated that Filipinos can compete in the international arena.

    This is not to say that I am not proud of the performance of Gilas Pilipinas in the recent FIBA meet or that the Filipinos should stop patronizing basketball. The “close losses” of Gilas Pilipinas to Greece, Argentina and Croatia showed how gutsy and gallant our cagers are.

    The overtime win over Senegal was also monumental, because that country has produced two players for the National Basketball Association who were also standouts in their college days.

    But when the dust settled, it is very hard to fathom as to how the Philippines can win a gold or even silver in the international basketball arena which the Americans continue to dominate with impunity.

    I was actually expecting the US team in the 2014 FIBA meet to get one or two close wins because of the absence of key stars like Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin, among others. But they mowed down their opponents in the same way Achilles slaughtered hundreds of soldiers of Troy. The US team literally toyed with the competition and made the FIBA meet their “playground.”

    The last time I saw a Philippine squad beat a team from the US is when the Northern Consolidated Corporation (NCC) squad won the Jones Cup in 1985. I watched that game from the start and was astounded as to how a selection of Filipinos and Americans were able to outplay an amateur squad made up of solid NCAA Division I players from the US.

    Although the NCC squad had three Americans, they were not the type who would make it big in the NBA draft. And the locals who made up the squad were mostly not the type that PBA squads would madly scramble for.

    In short, the NCC squad proved that a well-gelled team that was not necessarily made up of MVP players can bring home the gold. And the NCC squad even won a PBA championship at the expense of the Manila Beer.

    But the ouster of the Marcos regime also saw the discontinuance of the country’s well-funded amateur basketball program. Also, professional basketball players in the late 1980s were allowed to represent their countries in international basketball competitions, which made me think then that the Philippines will have a very slim chance of winning a truly international gold. While the Philippine Centennial Team, which was bannered by PBA giants like Alvin Patrimonio and Allan Caidic won the 1988 Jones Cup, the US basketball team was tearing the competition elsewhere.

    And the first win of the Philippine basketball team in the FIBA world tourney materialized only after more than 30 years. What went wrong despite basketball being the most-funded sport in the Philippines?


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    1. Filipinos are in denial. Filipinos love basketball but it is a tall and big people’s game! How do you overcome size? Speed is the answer. Speed in defense and offense, involving fast breaks, causing turnovers and errors on the opposing teams. The Philippines has a fundamentally sound team but they can not trade basket with bigger teams. The answer is speed up the tempo and attack with fast breaks, defend with full court press, play hard and treat every game as a championship game. Maybe Manny Pacquiao can give them advise on how to play every game like your life depended on it !

    2. if we continue this type of basketball program (plucking out available pro players from their mother team) and naturalizing foreign players to beef up our national team…and practice for a month or 2…. then we will not be able to achieve the intended goal. we need to form a team that will practice and play as one solid unit year long, if not year in and year out to properly jell together. we do this, then we have a chance to succeed where all our other national teams failed. the problem with this type of program is the financial support. the responsible government agency will not do this. similarly, top companies or even wealthy individual supporter will not do this on long-term basis much more permanently. yes; for a year or 2, we all went gaga with the success of our national basketball team as represented by NCC and fully supported by Danding Cojuangco. when Danding stop his support, we’ve seen what happened to our basketball program. Now, here comes MVP supporting the Gilas team. MVP is doing it in dual capacity. one, as private individual and two, as president of SBP. hopefully, he will not get tired of supporting the national team. but he should be brave enough to make the changes in team composition (players and coach) if the intended goal is not forthcoming. if mother teams of professional basketball players will not allow their players to join, we need to form a national team from scratch that we can mold into fighting unit. but this is easier said than done. in short, the current program will not last very long.

    3. The dismal GILAS saga once more brought to the fore the skewed sense of priorities of Filipinos as a consequence of the nation’s “flawed culture”. The embarrassing performance of the once hailed heroes of Philippine sports reinforces the truth that basketball which puts premium to height and heft is not for us. Gilas players at 6′ 3″” had the shortest average height at 6’7″. That’s why the likes of Tenorio at 5’7″ , faced by Iran’s Hadadi at 7′ 3″ had to rely on outside shooting, which no one can master. Basketball is not simply a matter of “puso”. GILAS didn’t have a monopoly of it. All these other international teams are as nationalistic if not more so as GILAS. GILAS of course had more hype and hoopla, thanks to MVP’s TV 5 and for a while Filipinos were mesmerized into believing we had a chance of getting gold. We will be lucky if we’ll get a tin cup. And the worst was yet to come: coaching. Where on earth will you find a coach ” a leader” who will bench his 6′ 11″ center who averages 10 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists per game in the middle of a championship round where every score differential is crucial because of the games’ quotient system and with only one remaining game ( against Kazakstan) IN ORDER TO DISCIPLINE SAID PLAYER !!! Coach IDIOT Reyes took the ” puso ” slogan to extreme: he allowed his emotional idiocy to take control of his coaching thereby sacrificing a potential national honor. If that is not treason, I don’t know what it is.

    4. Filipinos are excellent basketball players but they are just too short to compete against taller American, European, South American and African teams. In my book, they did well.

    5. I have been saying for years, its not thru lack on enthusiaism or cash, but the filipino is the wrong shape (ie too small) for the sport where height is an obvious advantage. Put the basket on the floor and allow you to kick it then you may have more of a chance (so that becomes football, then). Look at Messi, 5’6″ and Maradona the best players ever and you have a chance. Other sports of note where speed, agility, quick thinking are necessary – table tennis, badminton, boxing, tennis, or pub sports like pool and darts are the ones to go for…too obvious but also maybe to late