Impressive rookies
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - September 5, 2019 - 12:00am

FOSHAN – PBA commissioner Willie Marcial said the other day he’s over the moon with the performance of Gilas rookies C. J. Perez and Robert Bolick in the FIBA World Cup here and it’s a positive sign for the future of Philippine basketball in the international realm.

“Actually, kulang sa pyesa si coach Yeng (Guiao),” said Marcial, lamenting the Philippines’ one-sided losses to Italy and Serbia. “We could’ve used Poy (Erram), Marcio (Lassiter) and Matthew (Wright) but they’re injured. C. J. and Bolick are bright spots for us. I’m happy that they’re excelling.”

Marcial said the 108-62 loss to Italy was deflating but it was difficult to beat a team that wasn’t only strong but also lucky. “Kung anong binato sa first quarter, pumasok,” he said. “Magaling na, swerte pa. But that’s basketball. Things like that happen. Poor start tayo, sila naman strong start at hindi na tayo naka-recover.”

Italy detonated a 19-0 bomb in the first quarter as NBA veterans Danilo Gallinari, Marco Belinelli and Gigi Datome were perfect from the floor, hitting a combined 10-of-10 from the field and scoring a total of 25 points. Italy knocked down 6-of-8 threes in the opening stanza while the Philippines went 0-of-7. After 10 minutes, Italy was way ahead, 37-8.

Gilas’ second game against Serbia was a little more competitive in the first quarter and the Philippines even led, 9-7. But it was just a matter of time before the roof caved in on the Philippines. In the end, Serbia blew out Gilas, 126-67.

Perez scored 15 points against Italy and 16 against Serbia while Bolick hit six against Italy and seven against Serbia. Another young gun Kiefer Ravena, coming off an 18-month FIBA suspension, was mildly productive, delivering five points in both games. Of Gilas’ seven three-point conversions in the two contests, Ravena, Perez and Andray Blatche contributed two each. Bolick made one.

“Galing pa rin ni Kiefer,” said Marcial. “Parang hindi nanggaling sa long layoff but I noticed kulang pa rin sa timing ng kaunti. Si Blatche, nasa 70 percent ng peak condition. It’s important for Blatche to play 100 percent kasi import siya. Nakakahawa ang kanyang laro.”

Marcial flew in to witness the action personally with the PBA Board of Governors and key league officials. The governors were PBA chairman Ricky Vargas of TNT, SBP president Al Panlilio of Meralco, Dickie Bachmann of Alaska, Rene Pardo of Magnolia, Robert Non of San Miguel Beer, Alfrancis Chua of Ginebra, Bobby Rosales of Columbian, Atty. Raymund Zorilla of Phoenix, Rod Franco of NLEX, Atty. Mert Mondragon of Rain or Shine, Erick Arejola of NorthPort and Silliman Sy of Blackwater. PBA officials Eric Castro, Atty. Melvin Mendoza, Odessa Encarnacion and Gelo Serrano also made the trip.

“We wanted to see for ourselves how we perform and show our support,” said Marcial. “As early as now, we should begin to study how to prepare for 2023 when we host the next World Cup. I’m hoping by then, Kai Sotto, A. J. Edu, Isaac Go and others will be ready to play for Gilas. I think we need to naturalize two players so we have a backup in case one gets hurt or something happens. As for the PBA, we’re committed to our sponsors and partners to do 120 doubleheaders a year so it would be impossible to bring our calendar down from three to two conferences. It’s something we just have to work around.”

Marcial said the recent Commissioner’s Cup created a momentum of increased interest among fans and it’s something he hopes to sustain. “We had a boost in our average attendance by 500 to 600 from the first conference,” he said. “In the eliminations, our livestream viewership averaged 12,000. In the quarterfinals and semifinals, the average was 20,000. In the first three games of the finals, the average was 60,000 and in the last three games, the average shot up to 80,000. I don’t know if our performance in the World Cup will have an effect on the PBA’s attendance and viewership, one way or the other, but we’re optimistic that the Governors Cup will be even more of a success with San Miguel trying to complete a Grand Slam and every other team trying to stop it.”

Vargas said the PBA governors agree that a review of the training system is timely. “Maybe the way forward is to form a national team mixing new talents with some PBA players plus a minimum of two naturalized players, if FIBA will allow it,” he said. “And the team should play together. Al (Panlilio) will do a post-mortem of the program after the World Cup. The PBA governors remain supportive and agree that we need to look at the system. Next is the SEA Games.”

The return of two naturalized players for each country was broached as an idea by the late FIBA secretary-general Patrick Baumann to SBP chairman emeritus Manny V. Pangilinan but it hasn’t reached the discussion stage for a formal proposal. FIBA used to allow a maximum of two naturalized players for each country then later brought it down to one. The Philippines availed of this option in 1986 when it won its last FIBA Asia championship with naturalized players Dennis Still and Jeff Moore.

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