Not about sanction

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - October 14, 2015 - 10:00am

While FIBA has declared that a sanction is likely for a country that fails to participate in an Olympic qualifying tournament without a legitimate reason, the threat isn’t what will drive the SBP to decide whether or not to play in one of the three eliminators set on July 5-10 next year.

From the looks of things, the SBP will confirm Gilas’ participation particularly as the PBA has announced its full support for the national team. The SBP has until Monday, Oct. 19, to inform FIBA that Gilas will play.

Even before the knockout quarterfinals at the recent FIBA Asia Championships in Changsha, PBA chairman Robert Non and PBA president/CEO Chito Salud affirmed the pro league’s commitment to Gilas. That commitment grew stronger after the Philippines barged into the final against China and could’ve captured the gold medal with a ticket to the Rio Olympics if only the national team had more training time and key pieces to fortify its bid.

No doubt, coach Tab Baldwin is the right man to guide Gilas to where it hopes to be – back on top of the Asian ladder. The Philippines hasn’t won the FIBA Asia crown since 1985-86 when the competition was still known as the Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) Championships and Ron Jacobs was the national coach. That was when the Philippines beat China, 82-72, for the title in Kuala Lumpur with a lineup that listed Hector Calma, Samboy Lim, Allan Caidic, Jeff Moore, Dennis Still, Franz Pumaren, Elmer Reyes, Pido Jarencio, Alfie Almario, Tonichi Yturri, Jerry Codiñera and Yves Dignadice.

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Baldwin hatched a grand design to deliver a gold for the Philippines in Changsha and fell a win short of his goal. On the way to the final, Gilas defeated Iran, 87-73, avenging the Philippines’ 85-71 loss to Hamed Haddadi and company in the 2013 title game. It was the Philippines’ first win over Iran since scoring a 77-75 upset at the Jones Cup in 2012 in a game where Haddadi didn’t play. And in battling China for the Olympic ticket, Gilas proved its mettle by holding the hosts to 38 percent field goal shooting, the lowest in any game they played in the tournament.

What could’ve turned the tide for Gilas in Changsha? More training time because seven weeks just weren’t enough to develop the kind of chemistry Baldwin needed to crush a China team that practiced for close to six months. A better-conditioned Andray Blatche whom Baldwin said was only 60 percent of his capacity as he hadn’t played organized basketball since ending the Chinese season last February. More deadly shooters. Gilas was outshot, 9-to-6, from three point distance and 21-to-15, from the line. That’s a difference of 15 points and China’s margin of victory was 11. Surely, Paul Lee, Marcio Lassiter and Jeff Chan would’ve contributed big-time in the shooting department. In fact, FIBA officials repeatedly asked why the left-handed shooter, referring to Chan, was absent.

But Changsha is water under the bridge. The SBP and PBA are now setting their sights on the future, what to do to prop up the national team not just for the Olympic qualifier but for the new World Cup and Olympic qualifying system to unravel in November 2017.

Both Non and Salud are agreed that now is the time to map out a workable strategy for the future. They’re pushing for the SBP to name a pool of at least 12 players as soon as possible and get the nucleus to start practicing once a week as a start. The pool may be contracted or expanded, depending on how Baldwin sizes us the team’s progress. The PBA is also keen to find out from the SBP how it intends to build a team with a young core of Gilas Cadets, made up of outstanding collegiate players. Will the Cadets be held back from turning pro? If so, for how long?

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Salud said the evolution of a Gilas nucleus could’ve been started with coach Rajko Toroman at the 2011 FIBA Asia Championships in Wuhan. The Philippines finished fourth that year with a squad composed of Mark Barroca, Asi Taulava, Jvee Casio, Jimmy Alapag, Chris Tiu, Japeth Aguilar, Mac Baracael, Marcus Douthit, Kelly Williams, Lassiter, Chris Lutz and Ranidel de Ocampo. From that squad, only Taulava and De Ocampo were held over for Changsha. Alapag, Williams and Aguilar were in Baldwin’s initial wish list. Williams dropped out after suffering a severe sprain on the first day of practice. Aguilar was out with a dislocated finger. Alapag gave way to Terrence Romeo in the end.

Obviously, the pick-up system isn’t a long-term solution. With FIBA’s new qualifying format, the PBA would be left in a shambles if the pick-up approach is continued. That’s because there will be six qualifying windows for the 2019 World Cup, beginning with the first round of home-and-away games on Nov. 20-28, 2017, Feb. 19-27 and June 25-July 3, 2018 then moving to the second round on Sept. 10-18 and Nov. 25-Dec. 3, 2018 and Feb. 18-28, 2019. The schedule is in direct conflict with the PBA season except in September. The same schedule will apply for the Americas so it will also be in direct conflict with the NBA season.

For sure, the SBP and PBA will come up with a formula that addresses the issues of scheduling, training and building a national team for the future. The commitment to flag and country is what will drive the SBP and PBA to put together a program to push the national team forward.

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