Philippine basketball

Will the flicker of hope for PH basketball last until 2023?

Ariel Ian Clarito
Will the flicker of hope for PH basketball last until 2023?

DAUNTING TASK. Forming the best Gilas Pilipinas team possible for the FIBA World Cup next year is the goal.

FIBA

The SBP has secured a pledge from the PBA, UAAP, NCAA, and other basketball stakeholders that players who will be called up for the 2023 FIBA World Cup will be made available

MANILA, Philippines – Half a year of frustration for Philippine basketball fans after a series of underwhelming performances by Gilas Pilipinas was mitigated, not appeased, by some good news that came out this week. 

In what has been deemed a unified Philippine basketball commitment to form the best team possible for the FIBA World Cup 2023 which the country will be hosting, the Samahang Basketball ng Pilipinas secured a pledge from the PBA, the UAAP, the NCAA, and other major stakeholders that all players who will be called up for national team duty will be made available. 

The past weeks have been riddled with scathing commentary from netizens and even some sports journalists, this writer included, who have directed at the people behind Gilas the whole range of emotions bordering on hysteria known to men – rage, displeasure, nausea, embarrassment, and even despair. 

The news that came out this week offers a flicker of hope that maybe, just maybe, things could be turning for the better. 

What should be pointed out about a flicker, though, is that it is often rather unsteady, with no guarantee that it will last until its intended end result. 

Which is how this news should be taken. Any move that brings together the major stakeholders of Philippine basketball is a step in the right direction. But given how many times the fans have been disappointed by the same major stakeholders, it is prudent to take this as a welcome development but to proceed cautiously, perhaps even warily.

There are a number of variables that are worth noting. 

This is perhaps the first time in over a decade that the national team will finally have its pick among the best talents the country has to offer where there are no restrictions on the number of players to be selected per team. 

The last time this happened was in the 2009 FIBA Asia Championships when a Yeng Guiao-mentored Philippine team finished eighth. Back then, players from the PBA did not compete regularly in the international arena unlike today when most of the established stars of the pro league have had exposure in major FIBA tournaments.

The last year and a half has provided Filipino fans a glimpse of two schools of thought on what constitutes the right formula in forming an internationally-competitive lineup. Tab Baldwin showed a blueprint that is built on the foundation of a solid system that does not necessitate the top talents. He made do with the materials at his disposal, most of whom were collegiate standouts, and got everyone to buy into a system that emanated from a keen understanding of the dynamics and nuances of international basketball. The right system, as Baldwin has proven, will trump talent.

But it never hurts to have more manpower options in building the national team roster. Man does not live on bread alone, but having the bread helps. The national team’s journey to becoming a force in next year’s FIBA World Cup cannot possibly be dampened by having the country’s best players making up the roster.

This is where the second variable becomes integral to the first one.  

The PBA has already gone on record that the league will be implementing a two-conference season and a three-month break to give way to the 2023 FIBA World Cup, which is scheduled from August 25 to September 10. 

No Gilas squad in recent memory has had the benefit of having a three-month preparation. Gilas will have the luxury of pitching camp abroad, play in a couple of pocket tournaments in and out of the country, learn by heart the system that the coaching staff will put in place, and spend time together to become a cohesive unit. 

The involvement of the San Miguel group in what mostly has been an MVP group-run Gilas operations will be crucial.  

San Miguel Corporation sports director Alfrancis Chua has been named the executive advisor for both Gilas Pilipinas and SBP. This essentially gives the SMC group a big say in the composition of the national team. It is safe to assume that any player from the SMC-owned PBA teams can now be included in the national team.

Chua may not be the most popular basketball executive among Gilas fans, but one thing that cannot be disputed is that the man is a proven winner. He has shown an almost rapacious hunger to succeed and he will stop at nothing to get the results expected of him. This should bode well for the Gilas program. After all, the goal is not just to pick up a win or two in next year’s World Cup but to advance deep in the tournament. A Gilas squad with a war chest from both the MVP and the SMC groups will have the resources that could rival those from the top basketball teams in the world. 

Of course, there is still the issue of who will coach the national team. At this point, it appears that the calls for Baldwin’s reinstatement is a lost cause. The reality staring at all of us is that Chot Reyes is here to stay at the helm, despite the loud and overwhelming opposition from netizens and Filipino fans. 

Reyes will be given a hell of a lot more than what Baldwin ever had. All that will be for naught if Reyes still refuses to admit that what worked for him in 2013 is already an anachronism in the ever-evolving landscape of international basketball. Having Tim Cone and Nenad Vucinic in the coaching staff will be a big boost, but ultimately, it will be Reyes who will be running his system and calling the shots on the sideline. It is only when he acknowledges that he too needs to adapt and that what he has been doing the past six months will simply not cut it.

The single-minded focus right now for the SBP apparently is 2023. Not beyond, despite the 2024 Paris Olympics being just around the corner. Perhaps, not even 2022, as the Jordan Clarkson-reinforced and PBA-laden Gilas squad which will play in the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers starting on August 25 will again be given limited practice time together.

A flicker can glow under the right circumstances. We can only hope that the flame of hope that has been lit by the SBP will illuminate a path that is bright enough to last until 2023. – Rappler.com

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