Coach’s dilemma

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

Former Gilas head coach Chot Reyes said the other day tinkering with the national team lineup to add some pieces to bolster the nucleus is a risk because it could “destroy the fabricthat has been woven to consolidate and make the squad competitive on the world stage. He called it the “coachs dilemma,” something that sooner or later, Gilas head tactician Tab Baldwin must resolve looking forward to the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

Reyes, however, said a lot of things could happen from now until the next World Cup so theres no rush to make a decision, one way or the other. “If you change three, four or five players, the question is who will you take out?” he asked. “Everyones putting in the effort, sacrifice and hard work. Everyones contributing. Everyones playing within coach Tabs system.”

Sweeping the three windows of the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers that began last year was a clear indication that Gilas is on the right track. The sweep included two wins over South Korea in the Clark bubble a few weeks back. Korean coach Cho Sang Hyun said Gilasfirst win came from a “lucky shotbut when Baldwins Young Guns repeated in a rematch, skeptics fell silent. A report from Korea questioned the fairness of calls made by the same three referees who worked both games and even accused the organizers of bending protocol rules to give the host country an unjust advantage. But it was all sour-graping. When World No. 31 Gilas battled World No. 5 Serbia tooth and nail at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Belgrade the other night, that was pure, unadulterated quality basketball. Korean detractors awoke to the reality that Gilas is for real.

Serbia never expected Gilas to play like it did. Reyes said the fight was reminiscent of Gilasovertime loss to Croatia at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Seville. Gilas couldve upset Croatia just as it couldve beaten Serbia. In both cases, Gilas had nothing to lose, everything to gain, playing without pressure, soaking in the moment and learning from the experience. Against Serbia, Gilas came back from a 16-point deficit in the third quarter to seize the lead, 74-73, with 3:50 left. A dunk by Serbias NBA giant Boban Marjanovic ended Gilas’ 18-second ride in the drivers seat. Serbia was up, 77-76 with 2:06 to go and Gilas had chances to retake the advantage but missed two triples, time down to 1:22. Marjanovic then hit back-to-back buckets to ice it. Danilo Andjusic closed out the scoring with two free throws as Serbia won, 83-76.

The stats revealed how close the game was. Gilas and Serbia had the same number of assists, 21 and three-point conversions, nine. The Philippines had more free throws made, 11-6, more fastbreak points, 11-2, more bench points, 30-23, more steals, 12-4 and more blocked shots, 4-1. Nemanja Bjelica, Nikola Kalinic and Vas Micic sat out the contest as three Serbians logged at least 25 minutes to underscore coach Igor Kokoskovs reliance on key mainstays to eke out the victory. Reyes noted that in the fourth quarter, Serbia did not hit a single triple and went to Marjanovic to bail the hosts out of trouble with 10 of his 25 points coming in the last 10 minutes. It took a grizzled NBA 32-year-old veteran with a listed height of 7-4 and a listed weight of 290 pounds to bring down a team with an average age of 22 and whose leading scorer Dwight Ramos was sidelined to rest a groin injury. To most Filipino fans, Gilasloss was a triumph that signaled the beginning of a new golden era in local hoops.

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