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2021: Renewed hopes for Philippine basketball

The new year does not only mean a fresh start, but it brings with it renewed energy and recalibrated goals for bigger and brighter things. This applies to sports as well.

After a protracted 2020 which saw the basketball calendar cut short, 2021 does not appear to be a back-to-normal year for sports just yet. There will, however, be more events lined up compared to the previous year and this will give the basketball landscape some semblance of normalcy. 

After listing down what we hope to see in local sports in 2021, here are some of our wishes in Philippine basketball. 

Kai to the NBA

Kai Sotto will be turning just 19 years old on May 2021, yet on his young shoulders rest the hopes of a basketball-crazy country that has long dreamt of seeing a homegrown talent make it to the NBA. 

Sotto has made it public that he intends to apply for the next NBA Draft. But before that, he will get a chance to further hone his skills under coach Brian Shaw for the Ignite squad in the NBA G League, which will kick off in a bubble this February. 

The 7-foot-2 Sotto has filled up his body at a steady pace and is no longer the reed-thin 215 pound giant when he was still playing for Ateneo. He has also been working on his laterals since the main criticism about his game is his lack of mobility to defend the high ball-screen. (READ: Kai Sotto likens his game to former Lakers star Pau Gasol)

Sotto is projected to get drafted in the late first round or early second round. It is safe to bet that there will be some teams willing to take a chance on Sotto’s potential and see him further develop his game.

All-out for 3x3

The last time the Philippines joined Olympic basketball was in 1972 in Munich. This year, the country can still earn a berth in basketball in the Tokyo Olympics, but via the 3x3 route.

The Philippines is one of 20 countries which earned spots in the final qualifiers scheduled from May 26-30 in Graz, Austria where the top 3 finishers will earn tickets to the Olympics.

The question, though, is who will oversee the training of the national team. The country’s top two 3x3 ranked players, Joshua Munzon and Alvin Pasaol, have announced they will apply for the PBA Draft. 

When they do get drafted, this will mean the two, plus the other members of the national pool like Moala Tautuaa and CJ Perez, will all be under the jurisdiction of the PBA. 

Will the PBA then take over from Chooks-to-Go the supervision of the 3x3 national team? We can only hope there will be a solid plan in place for the 3x3 national pool so they can already begin their training. We would want to see our team prepared and ready to compete in the Olympic qualifiers.

Thirdy and Jack overseas

Thirdy Ravena has been putting up solid numbers in the Japan B. League even as he has run into a spate of unfortunate events after contracting COVID-19 then fracturing a finger

Jack Animam has been her usual dominant self in her campaign with the Shih Hsin University in the University Basketball Association in Taiwan.

Ravena can opt to stay in Japan if his contract gets renewed, or explore options in other foreign leagues or even the NBA Summer League. A number of Japanese players have previously played in the NBA Summer League, and there is no reason why Ravena cannot make it too.

In Taiwan where women’s basketball is given prominence, Animam is proving she can hang with some of the top players in a country rated higher than the Philippines in the FIBA rankings. Animam’s outstanding performance should open doors for her to play professionally in other parts of the region.

Ravena and Animam are two of the country’s top basketball exports during the pandemic year, and there is hope they will continue to strut their wares abroad in 2021 where they get exposed to higher levels of competition.

A league of their own 

The likes of Allana Lim, Afril Bernardino, Gemma Miranda, and Andrea Tongco have taken their talents abroad in the past where they have been recruited to play as imports in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Nepal. They are the exceptions.

For most of the players in the women’s scene, basketball usually ends when their collegiate careers had run its course. There simply was no option domestically to pursue a career in basketball.

All that is about to change with the advent of a professional league known as the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL). 

The WNBL attracted over 700 players when it opened application for draft aspirants last September. The screening committee eventually trimmed the number to 177 applicants. 

A women’s professional basketball league in the country is long overdue and a step in the right direction in developing the sport and providing an opportunity for women to play ball and earn from it. 

We can only hope the buzz and interest in the league are sustained and that the WNBL will be a long-term platform for Filpinas to play professional basketball and bring the spotlight to women in sports. –