FIBA ASIA CHALLENGE 2016
With just less than ten seconds left in regulation Mohammad Hussein from the Jordan national team decked Gilas Pilipinas guard Ed Daquioag. As the 6-foot guard sprawled around the floor. Everyone protested on Mohammad’s action, this was a non-bearing game with Gilas out of contention. And after Jordan building a 29-point lead going to the fourth quarter it was already a won ball game. We were undermanned, undersized and battered for most games and what Mohammad done is adding insult to injury.
Nothing is built on stone. If we want a super team that could carry us all the way to a FIBA Olympics spot we need to go through the system. It’s no snake and ladders game wherein you spin the dice and you get accelerated to the top. To get to step 10 you need to go through step one, two and all the way up.
Building a good house should start with the proper foundation.
July 5, 2016 Manila
Jayson Castro and Andray Blatche orchestrated a big comeback against the world’s fourth best team, France. Gilas 4.0 had some problems going to the tournament. Greg Slaughter, Marcio Lassiter and Paul Lee weren’t included in the lineup after nursing some injuries. It has been a roller coaster media frenzy ride from the beginning. From Jordan Clarkson’s unavailability to picking up the 12-man roster in live TV. Everything came out wrong in every direction. But the Gilas 4.0 still live up to expectations, going toe to toe against Tony Parker and Boris Diaw. However, when the clock ends and as the hometown cheers died down. Gilas still failed to get the win. Every team knows how good Jayson Castro is; they know how Blatche loves to dribble behind his back and Romeo loves to dribble the ball more. There was no element of surprise for the Gilas boys. After winning silver in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, fought close games in FIBA World cup and winning silver again in the 2015 FIBA Asia. We became victim of our own success. As evident on the next game against the Tall Blacks New Zealand team. They were able to close out open shots, and they were able to diffuse Gilas’ dribble drive offense. Our strength is not on our height or athletic skills; it was our battle cry “Puso” (heart) that made us unique in all aspect. That is why Calvin Abueva could have been a factor if he was included in the 12-man team. He could have disrupted the offense with his “play now die later” attitude. But somehow, somewhere along that line, “Puso” could only get us to the right road, but not the destination. We fought 2 silvers in FIBA Asia and we almost scored an upset against France but those things are only as good as it gets. When the hype died down, and the emotions sinks in, second place is just the first place loser.
The Philippine dream team
The 1998 Philippine Centennial team is the version of the NBA’s dream team. The Philippines just celebrated their 100 years of independence and what better way to celebrate it by parading the country’s 12 best players going to the Asian game. I remembered the hype and excitement going to the tournament. The players are treated like rock stars. It was the first time to have a complete all Filipino and PBA team since the time FIBA allowed professional players to play in the tournament in 1989. We got one lanky seven-footer in EJ Feihl. Andy Seigle and Marlou Aquino who towers at 6-foot-ten and 6-foot-nine respectively, provides the defense we wanted in the post. We got the spit fire guards in Johnny Abarrientos and Olsen Racela. Alvin Patrimonio provides the veteran presence we need and Allan Caidic with Jojo Lastimosa can put the lights out in the three-point area. However, we came out short and settled with the bronze. Everything went downhill after that. Our Asian counterparts prepared for the tournament all year long, while we pattern ourselves with the NBA, going to the tournament with less than 6 months in preparation. Benjamin Franklin once said “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. “We don’t have the strength, height and athleticism like the NBA players have. Magic Johnson is 6-foot-9 and plays point guard, think about the disparity when the 5-foot-7 Abarrientos is guarding him. We got that NBA mentality knowing the PBA is the premier league in Asia. Those crazy ankle breakers and death defying slam dunks doesn’t necessarily count as a win. Korea and China broke us down by playing systematic ball passing and converting open shots.
Gilas 4.0 is the 1998 centennial team 2.0, it was a team built around the success of its previous versions in 2 and 3. We again heavily put our expectations on Andray Blatche’s shoulder. We knew it was a long shot to the moon, but we put our doubts aside and gave our trust to the team. Hoping the basketball gods would be kind to let us score an upset against powerhouse teams like France and Canada. The preparation was again short as teams like Italy and Turkey clobbered us during exhibition games while the team was in Greece. It has become crystal clear our height has become a big factor on our defeats. 6-foot-11 PBA MVP, June Mar Fajardo was a revelation. We thought Fajardo would be the key to finally get us back into the Olympics. But June Mar came out short of our expectations. There are players built for international competitions which means Fajardo needs to have a mid-range jumper in a consistent basis and needs to be a bit faster. So far he is still not yet there.
In order to solve a problem, you must get to the root of the problem. China’s Yao Ming and Iran’s Hamed Haddadi are players from their respective country’s grassroots program. They carried their team through multiple gold medals in Asia. That is why Gilas 5.0 is back to where it started in Gilas 1.0., Playing with one naturalized player and composing the team of amateur players in the country. The painstaking process of looking for future Gilas candidates globally, is a gargantuan task but very rewarding. We still have Kobe Paras a Creighton Bluejays Division 1 player, the LA Lakers star Jordan Clarkson, Matthew Wright from ABL, the 6-foot-9 AJ Edu from Greece, a division 1 heavily recruited player named Kamaka Hepa, Troy Rike from Wake Forest, The 13-year-old and 6-foot-9 Kai Sotto and the 14-year-old 6-foot-9 from Australia, Ethan Kirkness. The main thing is to keep the original Gilas 5.0 core and supply the missing pieces with the availability of the fil-foreign and developing players. Then picking up the right naturalized import, who doesn’t cost much and is available most of the time. Let’s say the Cameroonian sensation that is wreaking havoc in the UAAP, Ben Mbala. Professional and PBA players will always have problems with commitments and while we are building momentum we cannot derail our growth by waiting and just crossing our fingers for a miracle win.
The calm and collective Ed Daquioag, stood up among the raucous situation and sank his free throws like nothing happened. The Gilas 5.0 boys came into the tournament with no high expectations. They weren’t expected to win or even be competitive. But they fought hard and persistent. The road is going to be long and bumpy, there will be a lot of Mohammad’s coming and it’s not going to be pleasant. To win it all, you are willing to walk in a storm.
Gilas Pilipinas is finally moving in the right direction.
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