FIBA recently released the latest Basketball World Ranking, which showed the Philippines making a quantum leap to 27th spot from 28th. The latest ranking was determined right after the conclusion of the basketball event in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Despite Gilas Pilipinas’ failure to qualify in Rio through the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) held in Manila, the Philippines still managed to go up the ranking by one notch. Had Gilas made it to Rio, the jump in the country’s standing would’ve been more dramatic.
Since the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) launched the Gilas Program in 2008, the country consistently rose in the world ranking in men’s basketball as the National Team kept turning the corner and making great strides in international tourneys, especially in the last three FIBA Asia Championships, winning the silver in the last two. The runner-up finish in 2013 was good enough to qualify the country to the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain after a 36-year hiatus. In Seville, Spain, Gilas 2.0, which was piloted by the multi-titled hoops guru Chot Reyes, scored a win over Senegal and finished the 24-team world championship at 21st place. This achievement put us back in the basketball world map.
It’s hard to imagine a basketball country loitering in the 60-plus class for many years, until the SBP has had enough and actually did something about it. Two years before the birth of the Gilas National Team program, the Philippines was ranked 65th in the world, behind other Asian nations like Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia. But that’s all behind us now and we can look forward to a steady hike in the world ranking.
But some major changes in the FIBA’s qualification format pose new challenges to the SBP and Gilas. The new format requires home-and-away games in six windows that hamper the availability of the country’s best cagers, who are mostly committed to the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). The PBA runs for ten months, making it difficult to assemble a well-prepared all-pro National squad. The SBP aims to cut the Gordian knot by reviving the original Gilas set-up where an all-amateur crew would train year-round, complete with numerous training and competitions abroad, to prepare for FIBA tournaments. Although the PBA stars may still be tapped for the more important events such as the FIBA World Cup and Olympics, their younger counterparts known as Gilas Cadets will be carrying the Philippine colors in most international jousts. And with the reinforcement of a naturalized player like Andray Blatche, the trick might just work. By the way, the SBP is now looking for new candidates for naturalization to prepare for the not-so-distant future, when Blatche retires from the sport.
With the SBP always on its toes, we can hope for a Gilas team that’s always in shape.
Amazingly, the Philippines now ranks higher than the Dirk Nowitzky-led Germany (29th), Korea (30th), Senegal (31st), Italy (35th), Latvia (36th) and Israel (37th). Germany, in fact, fell the hardest in the latest ranking, dropping by nine spots from 21st to 29th. Iran too sank to 25th from 18th. China, the highest ranked Asian country, maintained its 14th spot.
As Team USA annexed its 15th Olympic gold in basketball, the Americans retained its place as the very best in the sport. Spain also kept its hold of second place followed by Serbia, which climbed three notches. France, which found Gilas to be a tough customer in the Manila OQT last month, also stepped up by one notch to No. 4, while Lithuania and Argentina dove by two places to 5th and 6th respectively. Completing the top ten are Brazil, Turkey, Russia and Australia, in that order. New Zealand, which crashed Gilas’ hopes of returning to the Olympics this year during the Manila OQT, improved by one position to No. 20.
Basketball is now bigger than ever worldwide and has risen in popularity by leaps and bounds. But the competition has also surged all over the globe, making the FIBA events less and less predictable.
Thanks to the SBP and Gilas, the Philippines is now in a respectable position in the world ranking of the sport we all love.