The right way

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

There was never any doubt that the Philippines would win the men’s 5x5 basketball gold medal at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games this year. Because coach Tim Cone had only a few days of practice, he picked players whose high basketball IQ made it easy for them to learn his system aside from four with Ginebra roots. Cone’s choices from his PBA team were L. A. Tenorio, Japeth Aguilar, Stanley Pringle and Greg Slaughter. Other Ginebra players in the pool but weren’t picked for the final 12 were Art de la Cruz and Scottie Thompson. Additionally, Cone drafted Ginebra assistants Richard del Rosario and Kirk Collier to beef up his staff and also brought in Ginebra player Joe De Vance. His staff also listed international coaching veterans Joseph Uichico and Jimmy Alapag.

Chemistry was Cone’s first priority. He surrounded himself with assistants whom he could rely on to teach his system to the players and repeatedly told his players the campaign for gold wasn’t about them but about the country.

Eligibility in the SEA and Asian Games is different from FIBA tournaments like the Asia Cup, World Cup and Olympics. FIBA requires dual citizens to play as locals for countries where they weren’t born only if their passports were issued before turning 16. In the SEA and Asian Games, only a passport is required for dual citizens who aren’t naturalized. FIBA and the SEA and Asian Games allow only one naturalized player for each country.

In Gilas’ case, Fil-foreigners Chris Ross, Marcio Lassiter, Christian Standhardinger, Stanley Pringle, Matthew Wright and Greg Slaughter were allowed to play as locals in the SEA Games because they were issued Philippine passports not as naturalized citizens but as dual citizens. In FIBA competitions, Lassiter, Wright and Slaughter are considered locals because they had played for the country before the institutionalization of the 16-year rule. Ross, Standhardinger and Pringle may only play as naturalized citizens like Andray Blatche. NBA player Jordan Clarkson is eligible as a local in the SEA and Asian Games but as a naturalized citizen in FIBA tournaments.

In the gold medal game last Tuesday, Cone reminded his players to play “the right way” during timeouts. It didn’t matter if the Philippines was up by 10 or 30. Cone’s philosophy is to respect the game, opposition and fans by playing heads-up. It’s a habit that will carry over to situations where the Philippines may be under the gun. He meant that the team must be careful not to play down to an opponent’s level, that it must play quality basketball every second the players are on the court.

While Gilas’ numbers were impressive, what was even more impressive was how the Philippines played with respect. In the second quarter of the Thailand contest, the Philippines scored only one point more, 23-22. But in the third quarter, Gilas came out with guns blazing and scored 40 points while holding the Thais to 15. Gilas had no fastbreak point and only 11 assists in the first half but wound up with 21 fastbreak points and 29 assists. It looked like the players wanted to outdo each other in the first half and forgot about playing as a team. Cone must have read the riot act at halftime because when the third quarter started, it was a different mindset that the team displayed on the court. Down to his final timeout and with the game out of reach, Cone still told his players to work hard, to remember that millions of fans are watching and to play the right way.

Vic Manuel was the only Gilas player to score in double figures in every game. Pringle and Fajardo sat out the Myanmar contest as Cone borrowed a page from the NBA’s load management tactical book. Kiefer Ravena played on his fifth straight SEA Games gold medal team while Troy Rosario and Standhardinger on their second in a row.

Thai-American Tyler Lamb, a former UCLA and Long Beach State player, was Thailand’s do-everything leader. He had 33 points, eight rebounds and six assists in 32:29 minutes against Gilas and would’ve played longer if not for foul trouble. Lamb is like what Clarkson is to Gilas. But he couldn’t do it all by himself. Lamb had a little help from 6-9 Chanatip Jakrawan who finished with 15 points but no other Thai player hit in twin digits. For Gilas, seven players scored in double figures.

The Philippines ended the tournament scoring 113.6 points an outing while giving up only 69 with an average winning margin of 44.6. Standhardinger struggled from the line and shot only 3-of-13 before recovering to convert 4-of-5 in the title game. The NorthPort forward set a strong example of a player who’ll leave it all on the floor with his work ethic, conviction and dedication. Five-time PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo stood out as Gilas’ anchor while Tenorio kept the team together with his pin-point playmaking. Gilas played the right way by averaging a whopping 34.2 assists, a testament to Cone’s system of playing unselfish basketball.

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