Olympic dream must never die

Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Tony Genato, who played on the Philippine basketball team at the 1952 and 1956 Olympics, said the other day he’s hoping for the country to qualify for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games after a 44-year absence but it will take hard work, conditioning, breaks, skill and a consistently strong effort from the bigs to get the job done.

Genato, 85, said it won’t be easy for the Philippines to top the FIBA Asia Championships in Hunan, China, on Sept. 23-Oct. 3. Only the winner will represent Asia at the 2016 Olympics so it’s the title or bust.

“We’ll have to go through China, Iran, South Korea, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon and Chinese-Taipei to make it,” said Genato, the legendary 5-7 spitfirish guard from San Beda. “Don’t count out China. At the FIBA Asia Cup, they were the only team to beat Iran and their lineup had a lot of novices. At the Asian Games, they beat us with a team whose oldest player was 25 years old. They’re improving year by year. They’re tall, their shortest player is 6-3. I’m not really impressed with Iran, they’ve got that big guy (Hamed Haddadi) but I think they can be beaten. Honestly, I think our chances to qualify for the Olympics are remote but with the right breaks, the right team, the right coach, maybe we can do it.”

Genato said the Olympic dream must never die. “It’s for the country and basketball is the sport we love,” he continued. “Let’s fight for it. If you ask me, I’ll build our team around three big guys, (JuneMar) Fajardo, (Greg) Slaughter and (Andray) Blatche. I like the way Blatche plays. I’m surprised at the FIBA World Cup, we didn’t get him the ball enough to win games in the end.”

Conditioning is a key element in preparing Gilas for the Olympic qualifiers. “Some of our players can’t keep up with a fast pace,” he said. “In my time, I used to do up to 82 laps around the court without stop. We used to run up and down long flights of stairs. When we played, we were never flashy. Nobody was a ballhog. I could dunk but I never did because the coach wouldn’t allow it. I would lay it up over the ring but I always used the board. I remember Boni (Carbonnel) could dribble behind his back and do a lot of flashy things but wouldn’t do it because if he did, he’d find himself sitting on the bench.”

Genato said when he played for the national team, it was for love of country and the sport. “Our allowance was $2 a day when we competed abroad,” he said. “It wasn’t much. Now, players are paid huge sums and some of them still complain. What I don’t like about today’s game is it’s too physical. It’s almost like basketbrawl. I’d like to see more skill from the players. Although I was small, I could jump really high and I was fast. I had a running shot that was difficult to stop because I would use my quickness to get it off. Size-wise, we couldn’t compete against bigger teams but when we used to play, we had the advantage in skill, quickness and leaping ability.”

The highlight of Genato’s career was when he played on the Philippine team that took the bronze medal at the FIBA World Championships in Rio de Janeiro in 1954. It was the highest finish ever by an Asian country at the global stage. “We lost to Brazil twice and the US once but we beat France, Canada, Uruguay, Paraguay, Formosa and Israel,” said Genato. “Against the US, we had a chance to win. At the time, there was no shot clock so coach Herr (Silva) wanted us to freeze the ball. The Americans chased us all over the court but couldn’t take the ball away. They finally stole it from us twice but that was because we stopped moving the ball. We ended up losing by 13.”

Genato recalled that the Philippines’ last game against Uruguay was rough.  “Caloy (Loyzaga) and I speak Spanish and we overheard the Uruguay players talking about playing dirty,” he said. “So we told them if you play dirty, we’ll play dirty, too. We told our teammates not to jump for rebounds because they were out to undercut us.” The Philippines beat Uruguay, 67-63, with Loyzaga scoring 31 points, Mumar 9 and Genato 6. Another team that the Philippines defeated was France with Loyzaga outscoring the giant center Jean Paul Beugnot, 19-10. Genato said from what he knows, only four players on the 1954 national team are alive today – Loyzaga, Bayani Amador who is in the US, Mon Manulat who is in Australia and himself.

Genato said he never played basketball in high school because there was no competition during the war years. He finished high school in San Beda in 1946 then played three seasons for the Red Lions in the NCAA. Genato took up pre-med at San Beda and a year of medicine proper at UST before joining YCO in 1952. While playing for the Elizalde ball club, he worked as manager of Samar Mining. Genato quit basketball at the age of 30 in 1959.

“I never had a major injury while playing,” he said. “My worst injury was a swollen ankle during a tournament in Taipei and I was sent home right away by coach Fely (Fajardo) and an ambulance picked me up at the airport. In 1955, Don Manolo (Elizalde) took the YCO team to a tour of Spain. We played seven games and beat every Spanish team except Real Madrid. For every game, they gave a Best Player trophy and I won two. Those two trophies were later stolen from my house. My bronze medal from 1954 was borrowed by a Filipino sportswriter and was never returned. Even my ball with the autographs of the US 1956 Olympic players like Bill Russell and K. C. Jones got lost. But I have lots of fond memories to share with my five children, 10 grandchildren and 7 great grandchildren.”

Genato had a brief coaching stint with Great Taste in the PBA. “Would I coach again?” he mused. “Why not? Not as a head coach but as an assistant, teaching what it was like to play the game during our time when we were kings of Asia.”

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