Gilas’ inconsistency is a result of lack of chemistry and preparation. There’s no question the Gilas players are highly-skilled and talented athletes. Why they blow hot and cold is an issue that must be addressed through a thorough review of the country’s basketball program.
Not the Gilas way
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - September 3, 2019 - 12:00am

FOSHAN – You’d like to think that losing to Italy by 46 points was more like an aberration than something anyone would expect from Gilas. Call it a bad night or a bad dream. The blowout was a shameful whipping, reminiscent of how Gilas was thrown in the meat grinder by Australia in that ill-fated FIBA Asia/Oceania World Cup Qualifiers third window game at the Philippine Arena last year.

Against Australia, the Philippines went down, 89-53, in an abbreviated contest marred by a brawl. The referees waved off the contest in the third quarter when the Philippines was left with one man on the floor as the others were either ejected or disqualified with five personals.

Nothing untoward happened in the game against Italy at the FIBA World Cup here Saturday night. But the way Gilas was powdered by Italy was similar to the way Australia gave the Philippines an ugly trouncing.

When the Philippines battled Australia in the second window, the game was more or less competitive. Gilas lost, 84-68, but made a fight of it. In the rematch, it was no-contest as the visiting Aussies rolled to a 52-37 halftime lead then went berserk in the third quarter. The Gilas players retained from the Australian nightmare to play at the World Cup were Japeth Aguilar, Andray Blatche, R. R. Pogoy, Troy Rosario, Gabe Norwood and June Mar Fajardo. 

Gilas’ inconsistency is a result of lack of chemistry and preparation. There’s no question the Gilas players are highly-skilled and talented athletes. Why they blow hot and cold is an issue that must be addressed through a thorough review of the country’s basketball program. 

Against Italy, the Gilas team that was bushwhacked and humbled wasn’t the same Gilas team that survived two do-or-die games in the sixth window to advance to the World Cup. It seemed like Gilas was in awe of Italy’s NBA players and never got into a rhythm. Italy saw Gilas unsure of itself and quickly went on attack mode. The outcome was virtually settled in the first quarter when Italy dropped a 19-0 bomb and ended the opening 10 minutes on top, 37-8.

Gilas never recovered from the shock. It was like Manny Pacquiao scoring a first round knockdown and never giving his opponent a chance to regroup or regain his senses. It was painful to see the best Filipino players brought down to their knees under an avalanche of three-pointers and uncontested layups. That was Philippine basketball at its worst and it shouldn’t ever happen again.

Gilas head coach Yeng Guiao took the blame for the setback. Before the contest, he told his players if things went wrong, it would be on him, nobody else. Guiao has always been man enough to take any kind of hit. But this wasn’t his fault. Actually, no one person is to blame. It’s the system that must change because it breeds this kind of embarrassment.

Neither is the PBA to blame. The pro league has its own obligations and while it has given all-out support to Gilas, adjusting almost a year-long schedule has been a challenge. The PBA has bent over backwards in accommodating Gilas. This year’s draft, for instance, will take place on Dec. 8, several months before the season is slated to end. To shorten the PBA calendar to two conferences isn’t possible because of commitments to teams, sponsors and the fans. So it’s a reality that Gilas must face.

In 2023, the Philippines will be the lead host in a three-country consortium that won the bid to stage the next FIBA World Cup. Japan and Indonesia will host eight countries each while Manila will host 16 in the two-round group stage. Then, the survivors from Japan and Indonesia will join the survivors from Manila in the eight-team knockout quarterfinals in Manila where the semifinals and final will also be held. By then, the Philippine team must be at its peak with no room for inconsistency and no excuses because of lack of preparation. A repeat of the Italy massacre will not be taken lightly by the hometown fans at any stage of the competition.

If the system is flawed, what must be done to straighten it out? Maybe, it’s time to revisit the national team development program that San Miguel Corp. chairman Eduardo Cojuangco undertook with coach Ron Jacobs. That program delivered the last FIBA Asia championship to the Philippines in 1986 but it took nursing a crack group of collegiate players reinforced by two naturalized players over a period of at least three years to get the job done. At the time, FIBA allowed two naturalized players for each country and for the Philippines, they were Jeff Moore and Dennis Still. Another naturalized player Chip Engelland never got to play for the national team although he represented the country wearing the San Miguel colors at the FIBA World Clubs Championships in Gerona, Spain and the Jones Cup in 1985.

In today’s context, since FIBA allows only one naturalized player per country, the development program could include a selection of PBA players to join the collegiate stars who’ll be temporarily restrained from entering the pro draft. C. J. Perez, Robert Bolick and Kiefer Ravena would be candidates in the select unit of PBA recruits. Kai Sotto, A. J. Edu and other collegiate standouts will form the nucleus with a naturalized player. 

Reviewing the system is a priority because 2023 is only four years away. If a change in the system is required, the revision must be carefully thought out then executed with precision. National pride must never be compromised again.

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