Big J puts premium on homecourt edge
Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - February 4, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Robert Jaworski, arguably the most charismatic Filipino basketball player ever, said the other day the homecourt advantage translates into a 20 percent edge for the Philippines when Gilas vies for a ticket to Rio in the six-nation FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena on July 5-10.

“It’s not easy playing against the home team,” said the Big J who saw action for the Philippines at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. “If you’re a visiting player, everywhere you look around the stadium, you won’t see a friendly face. Everyone is cheering for the home team. Even a pig that you bring to a new pen will find it difficult to eat because of the new surroundings.”

Jaworski paid tribute to SBP president Manny V. Pangilinan for keeping the country’s Olympic dream alive by painstakingly spearheading the effort to host the qualifier. “We should all be thankful to Mr. Pangilinan,” he said. “He’s a man of vision with a passion for sports, particularly basketball. I think what he’s done for Philippine basketball in the SBP is fantastic. He’s given us a chance to go back to the Olympics after 44 years. Championships are won with money and pain. That’s how it is. We’ve got to have the resources and the political will to build a winning team. I think Mr. Pangilinan’s backing coupled with what PAGCOR and the government are mandated by law to support sports, we can go a long way.” During his term as Senator, Jaworski authored a bill providing incentives for Filipino sports achievers and establishing a Sports Hall of Fame.

As for facing France in Gilas’ first assignment in the Olympic qualifier, Jaworski said anything can happen. “As long as they don’t cut off our players’ hands, we’ve got a chance,” he said. “Besides, I’d rather lose to France than to an Asian country. But that’s not to concede we’ll lose. We’ve got the homecourt advantage and the players who can lead us to victory. I’m looking forward to following the games.”

Jaworski said he was involved in two Olympic qualifiers. “First, we qualified for the 1968 Olympics by winning the ABC (Asian Basketball Confederation, now known as FIBA Asia) championship in Seoul in 1967,” he said. “Then, we qualified for the 1972 Olympics also through the ABC tournament the year before although we finished second to Japan in Tokyo. Unfortunately, Big Boy Reynoso and I were suspended right after the ABC tournament during a MICAA game for Meralco and I couldn’t play at the 1972 Olympics where I should’ve been the captain of our team. I was back to play for our country at the 1973 ABC tournament, the qualifier for the 1974 FIBA World Cup, and we won the title. So I was three-for-three in qualifying for two Olympics and one World Cup.”

Jaworski’s final appearance as a national player was at the 1974 World Cup in Puerto Rico. He turned pro in 1975 and relinquished his eligibility with the national team because at that time, only amateurs were allowed to play in FIBA competitions. Jaworski’s 1974 teammates were Jimmy Mariano, Joy Cleofas, Tembong Melencio, Francis Arnaiz, Abet Guidaben, Ramon Fernandez, Bogs Adornado, Yoyong Martires, Manny Paner, Dave Regullano and Reynoso with Tito Eduque as coach.

“The key to being competitive in international basketball is mental toughness,” he said. “You’ve got to believe you can win. You’ll never know what will happen. At the recent Australian Open, Serena Williams and Roger Federer were confident of winning the championships but they lost. Win or lose, what’s important is the character you show in representing your country. It’s all about national unity and national identity. Decorum is essential, how you play the game.”

Jaworski said competing for a slot in Rio is a feat in itself. “The Olympics is probably the most followed event in the world,” he said. “The Olympics is even older than the United Nations. To appreciate the significance of sports, we must learn about its history. For me, sports is essential in a country’s history. Remember the ping-pong diplomacy and before that, the basketball diplomacy? Remember how it was when (Max) Schmeling and (Joe) Louis fought in the ring? How they brought honor to their countries. That’s why when an athlete is given an opportunity to play for the national team, grab it. It will mean a lot of sacrifice and hard work but representing your country is an honor.”

Jaworski said he has high hopes that the Philippine basketball team will continue to improve. “Our players are getting bigger and stronger,” he said. “For instance, we’ve got Japeth Aguilar who’s tall, who can run the floor and who can shoot. The important thing is discipline. When I played, I was considered a big guard at 6-1. Today, if you’re 6-5, you’re not necessarily a forward. You’ve got to be skilled in shooting, dribbling, passing, rebounding and playing defense. You must be smart and mentally tough. Think that a dunk is worth only two points but a shot beyond the arc is worth three.”

Regarding his former PBA team Ginebra, Jaworski said coach Tim Cone is well-armed to bring back the Barangay’s glory years. “Let’s give him time,” he said. “Tim just took over the team. It’s a matter of defining each player’s role. There must be team spirit from top to bottom. It can’t be that the players show up for practice and games then go home. They’ve got to bond with each other. If you give the players some leeway in what they can do, you’ll see Ginebra back on top.”

 

ABET GUIDABEN ACIRC ASIAN BASKETBALL CONFEDERATION AUSTRALIAN OPEN BASKETBALL BIG BOY REYNOSO AND I JAWORSKI MR. PANGILINAN OLYMPICS TEAM WORLD CUP
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