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BODY AND SOLE: Gilas Pilipinas: Questions after Cambodia

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MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 16 May)—In so far as the lineup is concerned, the Gilas Pilipinas team that recaptured the gold in the Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia is inferior compared with the roster that drubbed the opponents in the 2019 games held in the country. Many Filipinos doubted they could make it past Indonesia and Cambodia, two countries that reinforced their national basketball teams with naturalized players.

Cambodia had six Americans on its team. The Philippines only had Justin Brownlee as reinforcement, although there were Filipino-Americans in Gilas like veteran guards Chris Ross and Chris Newsome.

Another handicap was the lack of chemistry due to limited time to practice together and gel, that is, familiarize with each other’s moves and styles of play. It shows in the actual games, where the ball stayed too long in a player’s hand; there was no quick passing play for a more fluid offense.

Luckily for Gilas, some tactics worked in their favor during the championship game. One was the deliberate offense instead of a fast-paced game that shorter, smaller teams usually employ against taller and bigger opponents. Another one was swarming the paint for the rebounds to minimize Cambodia’s attempts at second-chance points.

The constant double-teaming and pressure defense against Cambodia’s scorers also helped, as it denied them easy drives for most of the game.

Still, it wasn’t an impressive win—an 8-point margin (77-69) doesn’t come close to being impressive—by the national team even if the boys did bring us back to the top of the game in the region.

Kudos to the players and the coaching staff, you deserve the nation’s gratitude, but the team is far from ready to compete in the upcoming FIBA World Cup in August this year. The lineup sent to Cambodia wasn’t an ideal one. The team needs more size and height with the accompanying skills, if we intend to put up a good fight against the world’s best.

Time isn’t on our side though. Two months isn’t enough to assemble a new squad and transform them into a cohesive unit.

In addition, since each team is only entitled to one naturalized player, the Philippines is apparently in a quandary whether to again tap Brownlee’s services or ask NBA star Jordan Clarkson to join the nationals. Although Clarkson is a Filipino-American, his failure to acquire a Philippine passport before he turned 16 disqualifies him from playing as a local based on FIBA rules.

For the coaching staff, it will be a choice between one who is more familiar with the playing style of the locals (Brownlee) and one with superior skills.

This has always been the problem with our national team, it’s almost always formed at the last minute. The only exceptions I could remember were the lineups that won the silver medal in the 2013 and 2015 editions of FIBA Asia. (Iran deserved the 2013 championship, they were really a strong team. But in 2015, the Philippines, which beat Iran in the semifinal for a showdown with China, could have bagged the championship that year if not for the spotty officiating that favored its opponent that happened to be the host country.)

They say basketball is a religion in this country. However, candles and prayers won’t make us win games. Besides, with many other countries having surpassed us in this sport, it’s time perhaps to abandon the faith.

(Body and Sole is the sports and fitness column of H. Marcos C. Mordeno. He can be reached at hmcmordeno@gmail.com.)

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