Disaster in 3x3

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

From gold to zero was the Philippine womens 3x3 basketball pathway in this years 31st SEA Games in Hanoi. Coach Pat Aquinos squad ran roughshod over the opposition in 2019 with Jack Animam, Afril Bernardino, Claire Castro and Janine Pontejos in the saddle to hit paydirt. But in Hanoi, Animan was missing as shes still rehabbing from a knee injury in the US. Afril, Claire and Janine were back and taking over from Jack was 21-year-old Angelica Surada who was on the Philippine 3x3 squad at the 2019 U18 World Cup in Mongolia.

The Thai squad retained three players from 2019Kanokwan Prajuapsook, Warunee Kitraksa and Ampahwa Thuamon then replaced Rujiwan Dunsinprom with Karuendi Banmoo. Vietnam didnt land a podium finish in 2019 but was determined to make headway as host nation, recruiting former Youngstown State and Chicago State star Mailee Jones, whose mother Diane is half-Vietnamese, to bolster the lineup. Indonesia also brought in a reinforcement, Kimberley Pierre-Louis of Canada, to beef up the 3x3 cast that didnt medal last time.

The Philippines recorded a 3-3 record in the elims, beating Cambodia, 21-5, Singapore, 20-14 and Malaysia, 13-11 while losing to Vietnam, 21-18, Thailand, 21-14 and Indonesia, 21-12. In the semis, the Philippines bowed to Thailand, 21-14 and succumbed to Indonesia, 16-10, in the playoff for bronze. Vietnam and Indonesia didnt reach the podium in 2019 but made it in this edition, displacing the Philippines and Malaysia.

Aquino had no excuses. “First of all, most of the teams got really strong and had Americans on their team,” he said. “Jacks absence was a factor because of her mobility. We need to adjust our lineup next time with more mobile players who can defend and shoot.  Our Fil-Am recruit Mai Loni Henson couldnt come because her team in the French league went to the playoffs.” For the 5x5 where the Philippines is the defending champion, Aquino vowed “babawi tayo.” The team includes Fil-Am recruits Ella Fajardo, Stephanie Berberabe and Malia Bambrick and the 3x3 players.

In the mens 3x3, the Philippines averted a total blackout by salvaging the bronze by the skin of its teeth. In 2019, the Philippines took the gold with an all-PBA cast of Jason Perkins, CJ Perez, Mo Tautuaa and Chris Newsome. This time, the decision was to send the Limitless squad of Marvin Hayes, Brandon Rosser, Reymar Caduyac and Jorey Napoles. Limitless earned the ticket by winning the PBA 3x3 first conference Grand Finals and topping four legs in the first two conferences. Vietnam was represented by the same team that claimed bronze in 2019 so familiarity was evident and the players trained three years to bring their game to a higher level. Thailand, blanked in 2019, showed up with a star-studded roster of 6-6 Moses Morgan of DePaul, 6-1 Antonio Price (Tra) Holder Soonthornchote of Arizona State, 5-10 veteran Freddie Jones Goldstein Lish of South Alabama and 6-9 Chanatip Jakrawan. Morgan, Holder and Goldstein were all born in the US but presumably hold Thai passports. Was their eligibility questioned by anyone?

The Philippines posted a 4-2 record in the elims, downing Thailand, 21-16, Cambodia, 19-7, Singapore, 21-16 and Malaysia, 20-14 but losing to Vietnam, 21-14 and Indonesia, 15-13. In the semis, the Philippines was eliminated by Thailand, 21-17 then defeated Indonesia, 14-10, in the playoff for bronze.

Philippine team coach Willy Wilson said he had no idea who the Thai players were until two days before the competition. “We knew about the others and we were able to scout the players but otherwise, it was just on the fly,” he said. “To be honest, I thought we overachieved just by taking the bronze. Indonesia brought in their naturalized import Jamarr Johnson and we beat them for third place. It was our first time internationally and it was a crazy atmosphere with the crowd and the logistical issues. Hats off to Phoenix management for going 100 percent behind us. We answered the call. For sure, a PBA selection would’ve been stronger but we got the call and we went out there to do our best for our country. I’m proud of our guys, we had little practice time but we fought out way through.”

Did the Philippines underestimate the opposition? How was Thailand allowed to play three US imports in mens 3x3? How could Vietnam be overlooked as host nation? Why was the mens 3x3 team sent to the lions den without reinforcements? Why was the womens 3x3 squad not upgraded with Jacks absence? Theres a lot of explaining to do.


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