RP 5 to break 40-year jinx?
- Joaquin M. Henson () - September 24, 2002 - 12:00am
It’s been 40 years since the Philippines reigned as basketball champion at the Asian Games. In 1962, coach Enrique Crame piloted the national squad–bannered by Caloy Loyzaga, Kurt Bachmann, Narciso Bernardo, Gerry Cruz, Boy Marquez, and Eddie Pacheco, among others–to its fourth and last Asiad gold medal in Jakarta.

When the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) was born in 1975, the exodus of the country’s top cagers to the pro ranks left the national team without a tinge of hope to regain supremacy in the region. But with the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) approving the participation of pros in international competitions in 1989, the Philippines was back in business.

In consultation with the Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP)–the country’s FIBA affiliate, the PBA committed to lend its players to the national team for the Asian Games every four years. Coach Robert Jaworski brought the first PBA batch of All-Stars to Beijing in 1990 and returned home with the Asiad silver medal.

Coach Norman Black steered the second batch at the 1994 Hiroshima Asian Games. The Philippines lost to host Japan in the battle for the bronze and finished outside the medal circle. In 1998, coach Tim Cone took a third group of PBA All-Stars to Bangkok and delivered a bronze after a close win over Kazakhstan in the playoff for third place.

This year, it’s coach Joseph Uichico’s turn to sit on the hot seat.

Uichico took over the helm after original pick Ron Jacobs suffered a stroke last December. From a pool of 30, Uichico trimmed the candidates to 15.

He submitted a tentative lineup of 12 to the Asian Games Organizing Committee but will decide on the final roster during the team managers’ meeting in Busan on Sept. 26.

Uichico said the mood in the Philippine team camp is upbeat despite losing Danny Seigle to injury in an exhibition game against Qatar last Sunday.

Morale is high and the players, except for Seigle and brother Andy who may also skip the trip to Busan because of back spasms, are healthy, discounting some nagging aches and pains.

"We’re raring to play," said Uichico yesterday. "Every day, at practice, we work on execution, fine-tuning our moves. The guys are ready. We can’t wait to get it on."

Uichico’s assistants are Allan Caidic, Eric Altamirano, Binky Favis and Boysie Zamar. Paul Howard, a former Arizona State assistant coach, is the staff’s consultant.

To prepare for the Busan games, the Philippine squad saw action in the PBA Governors Cup and Commissioner’s Cup. It also played four games in Italy last June. There were also a series of two-game exhibitions against Chinese-Taipei, the Melbourne Tigers of Australia, and Qatar. The team leaves for South Korea on Sept. 25.

Uichico said China’s showing in the recent World Championships broke the defending Asian titlist’s cloak of invincibility. Howard and Favis flew to Indianapolis to scout China and Lebanon. China lost seven of eight games while Lebanon was winless in five outings.

"We saw China’s weaknesses," said Uichico. "Unfortunately, China has more strengths and weaknesses. In Indianapolis, China played a lot like a pro team and it didn’t work because other teams had size, too. On the Asian level, China can afford to play the pro style because they can create mismatches in almost every position. Are they beatable? Of course.

Anything can happen in a game. We know what to do against China and the other teams. It’s a matter of getting it done. That’s why we’re concentrating on execution at practice."

There are 13 teams entered in the basketball tournament. The Philippines is bracketed in Group C with the United Arab Emirates and North Korea.

Group A is made up of China, Hong Kong and Lebanon. Group B is composed of South Korea, Japan, Kuwait and Mongolia. Group D lists Chinese-Taipei, Kazakhstan, and Qatar. (To be continued)

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