Philippine basketball

Why is Mau Belen not the Gilas Men’s 3×3 head coach?

Ariel Ian Clarito
Why is Mau Belen not the Gilas Men’s 3×3 head coach?

AT THE HELM. Mau Belen guides TNT into PBA 3x3 dominance.

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If based purely on merit, there is no one else in the PBA 3x3 scene who deserves the head coaching post of Gilas Pilipinas Men's 3x3 more than Mau Belen

When the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) announced the Gilas national team pools for the Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia from May 5 to 17, it generated a buzz that the Philippines was looking at no less than a sweep of the four gold medals offered in the biennial meet. 

Of course, there was the usual sprinkling of comments that this or that player should be included, and the puzzlement as to why Ange Kouame was in the men’s 3×3 pool and not in the 5-on-5 lineup. But for the most part, fans and netizens were happy with the composition of the Gilas squads. 

But what has been completely relegated to irrelevance is an important question that extends beyond the four corners of a hoop arena. It is a matter that the powers-that-be conveniently swept under the rug, perhaps hoping that not mentioning it would make it a non-issue.

Why is Mau Belen not the head coach of the Gilas Men’s 3×3 team not only in the upcoming SEA Games but also in the ongoing FIBA 3×3 Asia Cup?

If based purely on merit, there is no one else in the PBA 3×3 scene who deserves the head coaching post of the national men’s 3×3 team more than Belen. 

In the PBA 3×3 2022-2023 season, she coached her team, the TNT Tropang Giga, to a historic Grand Slam after they swept all three conferences.

The Tropang Giga were simply a cut above everyone else all season long. 

TNT ended its campaign with a 21-9 record for the entire season, way ahead of the Cavitex Braves, who had the second best slate with 18 wins and 10 losses. Barangay Ginebra was a far third with a 14-9 record.

Out of the 18 legs played, divided equally among the three conferences, TNT emerged leg winner six times. Cavitex won four legs. Platinum Karaoke, San Miguel Beermen, and J&T Express won two legs apiece. 

The Tropang Giga thwarted three different opponents in each of the conference finals. Belen and her squad outwitted the Platinum Karaoke, 20-17, for the first conference championship. In the second conference, it was Cavitex’s turn to challenge for the title but Belen’s wards again prevailed, 19-17. To win the Grand Slam, the Tropang Giga turned back San Miguel in the third conference finals, 21-18.

All these accomplishments are a reflection of Belen’s deep understanding of the nuances of the 3×3 game and what it takes to win in the fast-paced half-court battles of 3×3 basketball. 

To win as a coach requires competence in the Xs and Os and the ability to enable the players to execute the game plan and to also think for themselves when the game situation calls for it.

To win on a consistent basis is indicative of astute superiority over fellow tacticians from opposing squads and a mastery not only of the dynamics of 3×3 basketball but of the field one is up against.

Simply put, Belen has trumped every other coach in the PBA 3×3, and she has done so for the good part of two years already. 

It is not as if Belen just burst into the scene out of nowhere, went on a lucky streak, and had a Cinderella run this season. 

During the inaugural season of the PBA 3×3 in 2021-2022, she piloted the Tropang Giga to the third conference championship. TNT had the most number of title conquests in the 18 total legs played throughout the entire season with five, one up on Limitless which won four times, and two up on Meralco and San Miguel ruled three legs each.

This is not the first time Belen was set aside by the people behind the Gilas 3×3 program. For the 2022 FIBA 3×3 Asia Cup held in Singapore last July, Belen was bypassed for the head coach position of the Gilas 3×3 squad. Yet three out of the four players named to the Gilas roster came from TNT. 

For this year’s the SEA Games, 10 players were picked by the SBP to form the national team. The Tropang Giga have the most number of representatives in the pool with Almond Vosotros, Samboy de Leon, and Lervin Flores once again called up to don the Philippine jersey. 

There is a glaring disconnect here. 

On one hand, the composition of the national team in both the 2022 FIBA 3×3 Asia Cup and the 2023 SEA Games is a validation that the TNT Tropang Giga have been the best team in the PBA 3×3.

On the other hand, SBP’s appointment of the national coach for both tournaments disregards the fact that TNT’s dominance the past two seasons has been the handiwork of the coaching of Belen. 

The message seemingly is this – yes, we recognize that TNT’s success, and no, we do not attribute it to the team’s coach.

Or maybe they do attribute it to the coach, only they refuse to acknowledge it publicly, for reasons known only to those who made these head-scratching and appalling decisions. 

For how does one justify selecting a national team coach whose team failed to even make the PBA 3×3 playoffs of the first and third conferences and whose best showing was just a quarterfinal finish in the second conference over Belen whose team won all three conferences?

The SBP cannot hide behind its move to include Belen in the Gilas 3×3 men’s coaching staff as one of the assistants. It is a cowardly gesture and a cop-out by the SBP which blatantly turned a blind eye to the reality that the man for the job in this case is a woman.

Belen deserves more than tokenism by giving her an assistant coach role in the national team. No one else is more qualified to handle the head coaching reins of the Gilas 3×3 men’s team than Belen. 

The people behind the SBP 3×3 program had the chance to advance the cause of women in basketball by a few meaningful strides. They did not even need to make any special accommodations for Belen. All they had to do was make a decision based on track record. It was their moral obligation to reach a decision founded on fair play and equality.

Instead, they intentionally, shamelessly overlooked the brilliance of a young coach who has been working hard to prove she could hold her own in a male-dominated environment. This coach has repeatedly shown to the basketball patriarchy that she could win. This coach just happened to be a woman. –

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