Tuesday, December 25, 2012

This Christmas, How About We Have REAL Unity in Philippine Basketball?



With the Smart-Gilas 2.0 (or is it 2.01?) roster finally being released, any self-respecting fan of Philippine Basketball cannot help but swell with national pride and, at the same time, cringe with a mouthful of vomit.

The team coach Chot Reyes has built is rag-tag at best, but it will have to do, given the current circumstances. He has had to make do with the cards dealt to him – such unfortunate cards at that – and, to be honest, he could’ve done much worse.

Coach Chot Reyes has his work cut out for him just a few months
removed from his big win in the 2012 Jones Cup.

Before I continue on with this thinly-veiled yuletide rant, let me say this as a warning to coach Chot – sir, you are being fattened for the slaughter. I mean that not with any hint of sarcasm or condescension.

Only blunt truth and genuine concern.

And a little trifle with a pun.


With two key build-up tourneys coming up, coach Chot has had to deal with squabbles so familiar in our corner of the basketball world. He has had to write letters, pleas if you will, for certain players to be released by their “mother clubs” to play for their motherland. As was expected, these pleas fell on deaf ears.

So now, despite his best intentions, coach Chot will have to go to war not with the elite guard of Pinoy hoops, but with the upstarts. He will go toe-to-toe against some of Asia’s fiercest and finest with boys instead of men. In lieu of battle-hardened veterans, Gilas 2.0 will be bannered by freshly-minted collegians who will undoubtedly receive their first scars in Dubai and Hong Kong.

This is the path that has been laid out for us.

Nay.

This is the path we have laid out for ourselves.

Doomed to failure? Perhaps, but let it NOT be said we were beaten by the hot hands of Korea’s Yang Dong-Geun, the overwhelming size of Iran’s Asghar Kardoust, or the playmaking of Jordan’s Sam Dahglas.

The true culprit behind the impending doom of Gilas 2.0 can be summed up in one word – DISUNITY.

Let’s look back in time and go through a quick history lesson.

Back in 2009, the Philippine Supreme Court, by overturning a lower court decision and upholding an earlier order by the Court of Appeals, formally, and with finality, legitimized the entity we now know as the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP). That was supposed to be the last stumbling block Philippine Basketball had to hurdle to, at last, unify all stakeholders and rally them behind a singular cause – bringing Pinoy hoops back to its rightful place atop the continent.

Fast-forward to the end of 2012 – we are STILL languishing in the pits of DISUNITY. We may be “as one” on paper, but, in reality, many of the stakeholders in local basketball are scattered about, minding not the greater good, but their own selfish objectives.

Or, at least, that is how things appear.

All our favorite local leagues – the PBA, the UAAP, the NCAA, the PCCL, and the PBA D-League among others – are under the banner of the SBP, but, again, that’s only as good as empty words. Out there on the hardwood, when push comes to shove, when duty calls and our flag beckons, these entities, and the people behind them, fight and bicker amongst themselves for their own distinct “interests.”

Unity goes under the table, and disharmony is the rule of the day.

I am not privy to the inner workings of these leagues. I do not know the full depth and extent of the relationships and connections among each league, each team, each player, each coach, and each “important personality.” All I know is underneath the unified banner of the SBP, there is an undercurrent of disunity threatening to sink everything we have built, modest as it may seem, for the past few years.

The gist is this: as a country, we want to see our national team win a big tournament, but we (or THEY) don’t want to do what is necessary. Instead of holding hands, we point fingers. Instead of voicing out support, we hurl poorly-processed criticisms.

Instead of sending the best of the best, we send the best of the rest.

But, again, the best of the rest will have to do. We will burden them with 7,107 islands’ worth of expectations, and, should they fail, we will crucify them with impunity. Worse, should they succeed, we will ill-recognize them and, instead, cast doubt on their glory. It’s the Smart-Gilas catch-22.

Think about it.

Since the SBP’s inception, or, if you want to go back a little earlier – since the FIBA ban was lifted, we have NEVER EVER sent the best possible team we can assemble. We had SMC-Team Pilipinas (coached by Reyes, too) in 2007. That team finished 9th in Tokushima, Japan despite beating China (fine, it was just a shell of the REAL Chinese team) twice and finishing with a 5-win, 2-loss record. We had Powerade Team Pilipinas in 2009, this time coached by Yeng Guiao. That team placed 8th in Tianjin, China and finished with a 4-win, 5-loss slate. We had our first taste of the Gilas program in 2010, when they competed in the Guangzhou Asian Games. Gilas finished in 6th place, piling up 5 victories against 4 defeats. In 2011, Gilas enabled the Philippines to break through to the top 4 of the Asian Championships for the first time since 1987, narrowly losing to the Koreans in the battle for third. Earlier this year, Gilas 2.0, a hastily formed team that was supposed to be the backbone of the squad that will compete in the 2013 Beirut FIBA-Asia Championship, scored an unexpected triumph in the Jones Cup before placing 4th in the Tokyo, Japan FIBA Asia Cup.

Can the Gilas program ever duplicate this moment
of sheer jubilation ever again?

Compared to the dark ages of the Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, the latest results are certainly promising, but when one considers that these results could have been much better had we been able to send our very best, then things, inevitably, become a little disheartening.

With our very best talents playing in the PBA for corporation-backed clubs with corporate-driven interests, the SBP’s national program has suffered immensely. Players get tied down to their teams. In some highly-publicized instances, certain players have had to wait for “clearances” from their respective clubs just to practice or contribute to the national cause. Indeed, what these companies, and the supposedly successful visionaries and movers behind them, have shown us is that the culture of cutthroat corporate competition trumps patriotic collaboration on any day and under any circumstance.

This is why coach Chot has to make do with players who are still in need of a couple of years to “ripen up.” In Filipino parlance, hilaw na hilaw pa ang mga ito, isasabak na sa laban.

With this kind of framework, it won’t be a big surprise if Gilas 2.0 crashes and burns not just in Dubai and Hong Kong, but in Beirut as well. With this kind of framework, it won’t be a big surprise if Gilas NEVER realizes its potential.

It’s not enough that we were seemingly duped by FIBA-Asia when they gave the 2013 FIBA-Asia hosting rights to war-torn Beirut a few months ago. No. We had to screw ourselves silly by disallowing the best from joining the Gilas pool as well.

Look at the list of top-caliber players AVAILABLE NOW, but who were not able to be part of the Gilas 2.0 roster – whether by choice, or by… something else:
-       Mike Cortez from Air 21
-       Mark Caguioa from Ginebra
-       LA Tenorio from Ginebra (injured)
-       Chris Ellis from Ginebra
-       Danny Seigle from Barako Bull
-       Mick Pennisi from Barako Bull
-       Rico Villanueva from Barako Bull
-       Willie Miller from Global Port
-       Gary David from Global Port (injured)
-       Sol Mercado from Meralco (ruled ineligible because he’s counted as a naturalized player by FIBA)
-       Mac Cardona from Meralco
-       Cliff Hodge from Meralco
-       Chris Lutz from Petron
-       Alex Cabagnot from Petron
-       Jay Washington from Petron
-       June Mar Fajardo from Petron
-       Arwind Santos from Petron
-       Marcio Lassiter from Petron

Will we ever see Arwind Santos don the national colors in his prime?
(image by Paolo Papa/InterAKTV)

When I look at the roster with which coach Chot will have to work, I feel a surge of admiration because I know this team, despite being formed in a far-from-ideal manner, will fight and scratch its way in every game. They will probably lose majority of their games, but they will do so with such fury and ferocity. They will probably go down, but go down fighting like madmen.

On the flipside, I cannot help but pity coach Chot. This is certainly not the roster he envisioned when he took the job of Gilas coach mid-2012. He doesn’t have the “best tools” in the shed, not because of his own shortcomings, but because of the incessant squabbling, whether heard or unheard, seen or unseen, perpetuating Philippine basketball.

Saying ang programa. Saying ang pagkakataon.

At dahil saan? Bakit nagkaganito?

A country’s pride at stake. A country’s fortunes fated for the doldrums.

And some men, behind-the-scenes, perhaps up in their corporate offices somewhere, idly watch and withstand their fellowmen burn. They sip and sit, mindful of the massacre, but unnerved by it. The wants of a few men have prevailed over the dreams of a nation once again.

And, hell, it’s Christmas time to boot – the season of giving, the season of sharing, the season of unity. Apparently, all these lofty ideals mean nothing.

My Christmas wish is for things to be different.

But they won’t be.

Go Gilas. Go Philippines.

Laban lang.

6 comments:

  1. I share the same wish.

    Just a note. Chris Ellis and Cliff Hodge are no longer eligible. They fall under the new FIBA rule which demands that foreign nationals obtain local passports at age 16 (or is it 18.)

    Fil-foreign Players who had played in past FIBA tournaments like Norwood, Taulava, Kelly Williams, Jimmy Alapag and others are exempt.

    Ellis and Hodge, however, missed the cut. They played for the RP Team during the SEA Games but that doesn't fall under FIBA's list.



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  2. Oh yes, that's right! Thanks for the clarification! Let's all pray for a more united front in Philippine Basketball :)

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  3. Another wish is simply full effort and maximum growth from this version of Smart Gilas

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  4. Why just MVP withdraw TNT's entry to the PBA and let the whole talk n text team battle it out for our country I think its much better idea because talk n text team chemistry is superb and much like winnable in international type of play.

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  5. Rico Villanueva is also injured (ACL).

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  6. Great article as expected coming from the best sport blogger in the land. Don't know why Aktv has not posted this in their website.

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