Gilas Pilipinas is raring to start preparing for the second window in the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers, taking place in Manama, Bahrain later this month.
The Samahang Basketball ng Pilipinas (SBP) will likely field an-all amateur team composed of Gilas Cadets — including Isaac Go, Matt and Mike Nieto, Jaydee Tungcab, Allyn Bulanadi, and Rey Suerte — reinforced by collegiate standouts such as Kobe Paras and Calvin Oftana.
Still, many fans feel skeptical about the chances of this squad against our perennial arch-rival South Korea and upstart Thailand, bannered by Tyler Lamb.
For Filipinos, basketball is more than a sport — it is short of a religion. They have knowledge and opinions. They are competitive, with high expectations of every tournament the national team enters. And every time, they expect nothing short of victory.
But fans must also realize the reality: we cannot always win. But our team can and will be among the best if they do things the right way. We need to develop both players and team in the long-term, and the SBP is aiming for that with the appointment of Coach Tab Baldwin as project director.
Something an ordinary Filipino Basketball fan forgets is the process towards success. To achieve a successful basketball program, there is a process. Losses are an inevitable and valuable part of that journey — no shortcuts. The basketball federation cannot simply form a team of professional stars with the mindset that we are the “best” in Asia, then expect that team to beat the likes of China, South Korea, Japan, and the Middle Eastern countries.
The best print for this developmental program will still be the NCC model of the late Ambassador Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, coached by the late great Ron Jacobs. The team had stars like Allan Caidic, Samboy Lim, and Hector Calma. Jacobs also underscored the importance of role players in developing the likes of Yves Dignadice, Elmer Reyes, and Tonichi Yturri.
That team had experience in both local and international stages. It won a PBA Championship, and the Jones Cup, and it competed well in the World Club Championships. The players were not only familiar with their teammates,but their opponents. And so come the 1985 ABC Championships (precursor of the FIBA Asia Cup), the team was ripe for the championship.
It was a win five years in the making. And there were many changes and defeats from the onset, but that was all part of the development of the team.
Smart Gilas 1 mirrored that model, with Rajko Toroman at the head, and the likes of Chris Tiu, JV Casio, and Marcio Lassiter in the lead. By that era, besides China and South Korea, Middle Eastern Countries such as Iran, Lebanon, Qatar, and Jordan had developed into Asian Basketball powers. Smart Gilas 1 then played those Middle Eastern Countries on a regular basis — enough that after a year, those young guns could beat them one by one.
That team may have fallen short of their goal of qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics, finishing 4th in the 2011FIBA Asia Championships. Still, it set the bar high again and brought back a culture of winning.
To the ordinary Filipino basketball fan, I know you’re passionate. You will ask questions like, “Bakit all-amateur?”, or “Bakit hindi kasama sa line-up si ganito?” You live and breathe basketball. But let us allow the paradigm shift, where we do not always expect to win now. Instead, we should trust the process and enjoy small victories towards our bigger goal.
If we want to play and compete again in future World Cups — and maybe even the Olympics — we need to let our youth players complete and play internationally as often as possible. We need to be united in changing our mindset that we are Asia’s best because, in reality, we are not — yet. But given time, with the right pieces and the right process, we will be. It’s only a matter of time. Just believe.