It is unfair to totally blame the Gilas Pilipinas team sent to China to represent the country in the 2019 FIBA World Cup for its horrible showing, getting massacred in its first two games against Serbia and Italy, and coming home winless.
For one, the cage team only had less than a month to train and, as some quarters contend, there were better players who deserved to be in the team.
But there was something wrong in the way the Filipinos played, of which one of the most obvious is the lack of outside shooting especially from the three-point area. Almost all of the teams Gilas Pilipinas battled in the 2019 FIBA world tilt outgunned them from the outside, with Italy and Serbia being the most merciless from the three-point areas.
Some would contend that Serbia and Italy are ranked in the top 10 of the FIBA rankings, but how could one explain the 83-67 loss of the Philippines to Tunisia, which is 20 ranks lower than the local squad in the world rankings?
The cage teams Gilas Pilipinas also battled moved the ball a lot, especially the Italian, Serbian and Tunisian squads. This really showed that less than a month preparation by the Filipino squad was suicidal.
So what are the lessons learned from China?
First and foremost is, in basketball, nothing beats teamwork.
Just look at the Italian, Serbian and Tunisian squads – their players knew how to move the ball or pass a lot, and find the open man. Their ball rotation or movement were almost dizzying during numerous occasions, yet proved effective in finding the man who was in the best position to score.
There is this view that the European style of basketball relies more on teamwork and little of the individual play that we see much in the National Basketball Association and the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). Well, just look at how the Italian and Serbian squads crushed our local squad. The local squad losing by a margin of 20 points to Serbia or Italy would still be understandable, but losing by more than 50 points was something I never expected.
But some quarters would contend the local cagers still had a height disadvantage against most of their opponents in China, which could explain their horrible losses. Well, let me add that the other thing that was obvious in China was also the local team’s lack of outside shooters.
Up to this day, I have yet to see local shooters who are replicas of three-time PBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) Bogs Adornado, one-time PBA MVPs Ricardo Brown and Allan Caidic, and Chip Engelland. These guys shot from the outside like it was second nature, or like Manny Pacquiao unleashing his lead left, Nonito Donaire uncorking his left hook, and Floyd Mayweather Jr. throwing his right lead.
When Adornado, Brown, Caidic and Engelland get the ball in their hands and are in the position to take an outside shot, they immediately heave the ball so swiftly, that their defenders most of the time are caught flatflooted.
The sights of Adornado, Brown, Caidic and Engelland immediately letting the ball loose from afar or beyond the three-point arc, and with their opponents praying for a miss are part of the many unforgettable reels from PBA history.
Among the current crop of PBA players, Terrence Romeo has impressive outside shooting skills and we need more like him.
But shooting from the outside is no longer the specialty of small forwards or guards like Romeo, as the Serbian and Italian big men also shot from the outside with impunity.
So what is constraining PBA players from developing their outside shooting skills? Maybe because they are more athletic than their peers in the past, the present crop of PBA cagers prefer to rely more on explosive moves to score, like driving to the basket, sometimes for a dunk. This needs to be changed if the Philippines wants to do better in international cage competitions.
And let’s hope that in the next FIBA World Cup, we no longer have to learn lessons from crushing defeats.