Lessons from Estonia
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - August 25, 2015 - 10:00am

Gilas has come back from a whirlwind trip to Estonia where the national team lost three games in three days to finish last in the Toyota Four Nations Cup at the Saku Surrhall Arena in Tallin.

The first game was against The Netherlands, ranked No. 41 by FIBA compared to No. 45 Philippines. It was tight in the first half as both teams took turns in the driver’s seat. Gilas led by eight at one stage. The Dutch was ahead, 39-38, at the half. Then, Gilas collapsed in an uncharacteristic fold-up as the Netherlands broke it open with a 29-4 blast in the third period. Only Jayson Castro and Asi Taulava scored for Gilas. Castro hit a three and Taulava contributed a free throw. In the end, the Dutch won handily, 89-62, even as Gilas was competitive in three of the four quarters.

Showing the way for the Dutch was 6-11 Roeland Schaftenaar who played four years with the Oregon State varsity in the NCAA Division I and has suited up as an import in Spain and Greece. Schaftenaar scored 15 points. Seven-foot Henk Norel, the Minnesota Timberwolves second round pick in the 2009 NBA draft, chipped in 12 points. Norel has played in Spain and Italy. Suriname-born Charlon Kloof, a 6-3 guard, tallied 11 points. Kloof, 25, played three years at St. Bonaventure, the same NCAA Division I school that produced NBA legend Bob Lanier, and last season, averaged 18.9 points for Istanbul in the Turkish league. One of the Dutch players was Kees Akerboom, Jr. whose father Kees, Sr. led the 1977 FIBA Europe Championships in scoring with a 27 point clip. Kees, Sr. played in 182 games with the national team, second in the list to Toon Van Helfteren with 207. Van Helfteren is now the Dutch coach.

The Netherlands is returning to play in the FIBA Europe Championships on Sept. 5-20 for the first time in 25 years. It has never played in the Olympics and once competed in the World Cup, finishing 14th in 1986. The Dutch would’ve qualified for the European Championships in 2013 but were struck out after two players Mohamed Kherrazi and Sean Cunningham, were declared ineligible. Instead of ejecting Kherrazi and Cunningham before the European qualifiers, organizers allowed them to play two games – which the Dutch won – then ruled a forfeit. Kherrazi, however, is now eligible to play for the Dutch squad.

Five Dutch players have made it to the NBA – Rik Smits, Swen Nater, Dan Gadzuric, Geert Hammink and Francisco Elson.

Next for Gilas was host Estonia which isn’t ranked in the top 124 countries by FIBA. Estonia has only 856 licensed male basketball players with no World Cup experience. It is playing in next month’s European Championships after sitting out the last six. Estonia has played in only one Olympics – in Berlin in 1936 and lost to the Philippines, 39-22. The Philippines beat Mexico, 32-20, and Estonia then lost to the US, 56-23, in the knockout quarterfinals. Coached by Chito Calvo, the Filipinos regrouped to beat Italy, 32-14, and Uruguay, 33-23, to salvage fifth spot. The bronze medal went to Mexico which lost to the Philippines in the first round. Among the Filipino players were Ambrosio Padilla, Charlie Borck, Primitivo Martinez, Jacinto Ciria Cruz and Jess Marzan.

Estonia broke out to a 20-point lead, 77-57, entering the fourth period but Gilas trimmed the gap to nine with two minutes left. The hosts held on to win, 90-80. Estonia’s coach was Tiit Sokk who played on the Russian team that won the gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Estonia’s top scorers were 6-9 Janal Talts with 20, 6-6 Tanel Kurbas 13, 6-7 Slim Sander Vene 12 and 6-10 Reinar Hallik 11.

Estonia’s claim to fame in hoops is former national player Martin Muursepp played for Miami and Dallas in the NBA in 1996-97 and 1997-98. Murrsepp was picked on the first round by Utah in the 1996 NBA draft.

Finally, Gilas bowed to Iceland which, like Estonia, isn’t in the FIBA top 124 rankings. Iceland is making its FIBA Europe Championships debut this year after qualifying from the Games of the Small States of Europe. Iceland’s coach Craig Pedersen is from Canada. Iceland has never played in the Olympics or World Cup.

Gilas trailed by five at the half, came within three at 59-56 and eventually lost by 10, 86-76. Iceland rained baskets from the perimeter that broke Gilas’ back. Leading the way for Iceland were 6-5 Hoerdur Axel Vilhjalmsson with 19 points, 6-6 Helgi Magnusson 11 and 6-3 Logi Gunnarsson 10.  Magnusson, 32, and Gunnarsson, 33, both played high school basketball in the US. Magnusson saw action in four seasons with the Catawba College in North Carolina and has played in Sweden and Switzerland. Gunnarsson is a veteran import with stops in Spain, Germany, Finland, France and Sweden.

Only one Icelander has played in the NBA. He was 7-2 Petur Gudmundsson who was Portland’s third round pick in 1981. A University of Washington graduate, Gudmundsson played for the Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs.

Gilas gained several positives from the journey. First, the players got to know each other better. The bonding will go a long way in firming chemistry not only among the players but also with the coaching staff. Second, coach Tab Baldwin was able to experiment with different combinations, finding out what works, what doesn’t. He stuck to the limit of 12 players for each game. Third, Baldwin found out the capabilities of each player under difficult, unfamiliar conditions. Fourth, the team was officially reintroduced to foreign competition. Fifth, Baldwin was made aware of which players are out of condition and what they must do to shape up. Sixth, Calvin Abueva and Terrence Romeo were tested against European opposition and passed with flying colors. Finally, Baldwin got to realize what are the priorities to work on, the gaps to close, in whipping Gilas into championship form. There were glaring deficiencies on both ends as Gilas struggled in Estonia but the team will learn from the lessons of defeat and bounce back with a vengeance.

ACIRC BALDWIN DIVISION I DUTCH ESTONIA EUROPE CHAMPIONSHIPS EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS GILAS PLAYED PLAYERS WORLD CUP
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