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  1. Rp hoops: After 40 years, olympic dream remains unfulfilled

    I still cannot get over the fact that it has been forty years since the Philippines last qualified for the men’s basketball tournament in the Summer Olympics.

    The Filipino cagers last suited up in the Olympics during the 1972 Munich Games.

    Admittedly, the establishment of a local professional basketball league – the Philippine Basketball Association – in 1975 prevented the country from sending its best players to any FIBA (International Basketball Association)-sanctioned competition such as the Olympics and World Cup of Basketball (formerly called the World Basketball Championship) for nearly two decades because of the games’ amateur status.

    Then again, the FIBA’s “open basketball” policy, which no longer distinguishes an amateur from a pro, has been in existence since the 1992 Barcelona Games.

    The truth of the matter is that international basketball has advanced by leaps and bounds through the years while Philippine hoops – despite the acquisition of Filipino-foreigners – has not progressed as fast as its high-profile Asian counterparts, let alone emerging contenders from outside the continent.

    If it’s any consolation, the Pinoys remain the basketball kingpins at the South East Asian level until now.

    * * *

    The Philippines has earned a berth in Olympic men’s basketball on seven occasions.

    These came in Berlin in 1936 (fifth place, 4-1 record); London in 1948 (12th, 4-4); Helsinki in 1952 (tied for ninth to 16th, 3-2); Melbourne in 1956 (seventh, 4-4 – where all-time Filipino cage great Carlos Loyzaga once faced American Bill Russell, who later was to become the winningest player in National Basketball Association history with 11 championships in 12 Finals trips during his 13-year NBA career), during in the tournament); Rome in 1960 (11th, 4-4); Mexico in 1968 (13th, 3-6); and Munich in 1972 (13th, 3-6).

    There were no Olympic Games in 1940 and 1944 due to World War II. It resumed in 1948 in London, which will be hosting the multi-sport quadrennial competitions once again late this month.

    During the inaugural 1936 Berlin Olympics, the Filipinos, who were captained by Ambrosio Padilla (who later became a Senator), settled for fifth place among the 21 participating teams even though they lost only once in five appearances.

    The Philippines drew a bye in the first round. It edged Mexico, 32-30, in the second round and blasted Estonia, 39-22, in the round of 14.

    In the knockout quarterfinals, the United States sent the Filipinos out of medal contention with an emphatic 56-23 decision (28-20 at halftime).

    In their first assignment during the classification phase, our boys crushed Italy, 32-14, to advance to the 5th-6th-place game where the Philippines defeated Uruguay, 33-23.

    The Philippines’ fifth-place performance remains the highest finish ever by an Asian country in Olympic men’s basketball history.

    United States whipped Canada, 19-8, in the gold-medal game while Mexico (which the Philippines beat in the second round) knocked off Poland, 26-12, for the bronze.

    Aside from Padilla, who later won a seat in the Philippine Senate, the members of the 1936 contingent were Charles Borck, Jacinto Ciria Cruz, Franco Marquicias, Primitivo Martinez, Jesus Marzan, Amador Obordo, Bibiano Ouano, John Worrell and Fortunato Yambao.

    Head coach of the team was Dionisio (Chito) Calvo.
  2. Hoopster 742

    Three wildcard berths to the men’s basketball tournament in the upcoming London Olympics are at stake in the 12-team FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Caracas,Venezuela from July 2-8.

    This is the first time that Venezuela is hosting a major international basketball tournament, having beaten Angola,Macedonia and Lithuania for the hosting rights.

    The twelve participating countries have been divided into four groups of three each.

    In Group A are Greece, Puerto Rico and Jordan. In Group B are Nigeria, Lithuania and Venezuela.

    In Group C are Russia, the Dominican Republic and South Korea. In Group D are Macedonia, New Zealand and Angola.

    The preliminary phase will have a round-robin format.

    The top two teams from each group will advance to the single-game knockout quarterfinals. The matchups for the quarterfinals will be A1 vs. B2, B1 vs. A2, C1 vs. D2 and D1 vs. C2.

    The semifinal pairings will be A1/B2 vs. C1/D2 and B1/A2 vs. D1/C2. The semifinal winners will earn spots in the Olympic men’s basketball tournament that will be held in London for the first time since 1948.

    The semifinal losers will play each other for the third and last Olympic qualifying berth. No championship game will be held.

    In opening-day games, the two Asian representatives were clobbered by their opponents. Greece blasted Jordan, 107-63, and Russia whitewashed South Korea, 91-56.

    So far, nine countries have punched tickets to the 12-team Olympic men’s basketball competitions from July 28-August 12.

    A draw had earlier held to determine the members of each of the two groupings.

    In Group A are Argentina, France, Tunisia, the United States, OQT (Olympic Qualifying Tournament) 1 and OQ 2. In Group B are Australia, Brazil, People’s Republic of China, host Great Britain, Spain and OQT 3.

    Argentina (Americas), Tunisia (Africa), Australia (Oceania),Spain EuroBasket) and People’s Republic of China (Asia)topped the FIBA qualifying tournaments in their respective zones to earn slots in the London Olympiad.

    The United States, which will be employing NBA stars for the sixth consecutive Olympics since the Barcelona Games in 1992(that featured the original Dream Team), is an automatic qualifier because of their status as the reigning World champion (and not as the defending Olympic gold medalist).

    Despite not qualifying from the European zone, Great Britain has been allowed to compete by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) due to its status as host of the quadrennial multi-sports spectacle.

    France and Brazil also secured Olympic berths following their runner-up finishes in the EuroBasket and Tournament of the Americas, respectively.

    The Philippines narrowly missed a trip to the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Venezuela following a 70-68 loss to South Korea in the battle for third place during the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan, China.
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  3. NCAA Season 88: Still a Lion's League

    Now in its 88th season, the NCAA, the country's oldest and most historic athletic tournament opened at the Big Dome in typical glitzy fashion last weekend. As usual the basketball titles in both the men's and high school divisions are the centerpieces of the league. It should be no surprise to anyone that San Beda College is the prohibitive favorite to retain the titles in both caging divisions. Whatever else anyone may have to say, the road to the NCAA Season 88 basketball titles will still run through the gates of St Beda.

    Essentially the NCAA has been the stomping ground of the Red Lions since the 82nd Season, when guard Pong Escobal and Nigerian giant Sam Ekwe suited up for the Red and White. They've gone on to win five of the last six titles, including three straight from 2006-2008. Their title run was interrupted by the San Sebastian Golden Stags in the 2009 season, when the San Sebastian roster was revamped and rebooted to inlcude current superstars Calvin Abueva and Ian Sangalang. It has been a San Beda-San Sebastian rivalry over the last couple of seasons since then.

    That might be what makes the NCAA now not quite as exciting as it used to be, maybe even just 10 years ago. "The NCAA is essentially a league with one super strong team, two strong teams, and then everyone else," noted a veteran online sports writer who works for a popular global web site. "Outside of those three teams there just isn't much competition in the league anymore. The bottom teams are really struggling, and watching the games can sometimes be a trying experience," he added.

    Let's take a look at each team ___

    Arellano University: Coach Leo Isaac will lean heavily on his perimeter since he really doesn't have much size to bank on. The veteran guard combo of Rocky Acidre and Vergel Zulueta will elad the Chiefs, together with 6-foot-2 Filipino-Foreigner swingman James Forrester. They'll be running a lot of motion and staggered screens because if they cannot get out and run. 6-foot off-guard Adam Serjue, another expatriate of Filipino lineage, could have been a big boost but got injured before the season could even begin. 6-foot-6 Prince Caperal and 6-foot-3 freshman rookie Julius Cadavis are as good as it gets up front for Arellano. They will likely finish under .500 this season.

    College of St Benilde: With arguably the best backcourt in the NCAA if not the entirety of college basketball nationwide, the Blazers will try to outrun and out-quick the opposition this season. Led by the electric Carlo Lastimosa, the Blazers will also be banking on Jonathan Grey, JP Taha and Luis Singco. If they can get consistent production out of their frontline, more than the usual rebounds and interior defense, they actually have a shot at the Final 4. But Jan Tan, Bart Bartolo, and Tyler Fikowski work hard but aren't really elite big men. St Benilde might still make a Final 4 run on the strength of their backcourt though.

    Emilio Aguinaldo College: Pining for the days of yore might be the in thing for the Generals. Once upon a time they had some of the best players in all of college ball, like PBA star Ronjay Buenafe, and hardcourt legend Nino Songco. Now they have essentially a smallish team trying to keep up with the big boys. Jan Jamon had a great season on a bad team last year, but barely stirred in the summer. Russell Yaya was Ok over the summer and looks to continue that in Season 88, leading the Generals over Arellano in their last game with 17 markers. Head coach Gerry Esplana hopes to get some more out of guard John Tayontong and forward Noube Happi. This is a team looking at the wrong side of .500 ball.

    Jose Rizal University: Loaded with veterans but short on size, the Heavy Bombers of head coach Vergel Meneses have a legit shot at making the Final 4. They have a pretty good blend with guards Alex Almario, Jon Villarias and Nate Matute, forwards Jon Lopez and Ralph Monserat, and undersized centers Raymond Carampil and Jon Mabulac. They have one of the best full court pressing defenses in the league, and they can score inside-outside. This is a team that nearly upended reigning UAAP champion Ateneo in the Fr Martin Cup Finals. They will have to figure out a way to match up against the taller timber though.

    Letran: Head coach Louie Alas preaches toughness, defense and sharing the ball, except perhaps where his son Kevin is concerned. Kevin scored 31 points in their big opening day win over mighty San Sebastian, with the 5-foot-11 guard showcasing the new skills he learned on a month-long personal training camp in the US. Alas father and son are the real engine driving the Knights' train, and they should find their way easily enough into the Final 4 in their Hosting Year this year. Mark Cruz, Jon Belorio and Kevin Racal will provide plenty of support.

    Lyceum: This is another team that was much better before ...
  4. Spoelstra: *A Heat Loyalist

    One has to like Erik Celino Spoelstra’s Filipino-like coolness on and off the National Basketball Association (NBA) hardwood.

    It is known to many that our Pambansang Kamao Manny Pacquiao rooted for the Boston Celtics when the Green took on Spoelstra’s Miami Heat in the deciding Game Seven of the Eastern finals. *Pacquiao even caught the nationally-televised encounter in his dugout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada while just one hour or so before he took on cross-eyed judges C.J. Ross and Duane Ford’s favorite “manghuhula,” American Timothy Bradley, for the former’s World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight title.

    Well, Pacquiao’s Celtics lost and so did he later in the night. *Actually, only the two of the three judges thought the congressman from Sarangani lost the 12-round bout as the rest of the world called the fight’s controversial outcome (a split decision for Bradley) a travesty and the WBO, through a non-binding TV review of the fight by five independent judges, eventually confirmed a unanimous-decision win by Pacquiao.

    Spoelstra never took it against his “kababayan” for rooting against his Heat. *The first NBA championship head coach with Filipino blood running through his veins, he even proclaimed that “I am a fan of Manny Pacquiao” and compared pro boxing, with its ups and downs, to the Heat’s struggle to the top this year.

    From one Filipino champion to another, they are our pride and glory.

    As far as I know, Spoelstra is only the second American bench boss in NBA history with other blood lines to secure an NBA crown. *San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich was born in Indiana although his dad and mom came from Serbia and Croatia, respectively. *(Serbia and Croatia were part of the Republic of Yugoslavia until its break-up in the early 1990s.)
    The 6-1 Spoelstra was born in Evanston, Illinois. *His mom, Elisa Caridad (Fe) Celino, hails from San Pablo, Laguna.

    Spoelstra’s Irish-Dutch dad Jon was once a front-office executive with the Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets and New Jersey Nets. *He was probably best remembered in some circles for getting traded in an unusual manner. *Jon was jettisoned from the Trail Blazers to the Indiana Pacers’ front office for one week of consulting in exchange for point guard Don Buse.

    Erik first set foot on Philippine soil when he was only three years old. *Subsequently, he has gone to Manila thrice more since 2009, conducting coaching and playing clinics each time.

    Erik was an outstanding point guard at Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon during the mid-1980s. *In 1988-89, he hooked up with the University of Portland, where he was a four-year starter for the Pilots varsity. *

    While Spoelstra graduated with a degree in communications from the school in 1992, he was bypassed in the NBA draft that same year.

    Instead, Spoelstra spent a pair of seasons (1992-94) as a player-coach for Tus Herten in the German professional league before the Miami Heat came-a-calling to offer him a low-ranking position in 1995.

    He has been with the Heat organization since the time, rising from the ranks through the last 17 years.

    Spoelstra started as the Heat’s video coordinator in 1995. *After two seasons, he took on the role of assistant coach-video coordinator.

    In 1999, Spoelstra was promoted to assistant coach-advance scout. *Two years later (2001), he became the Heat’s assistant coach and director of scouting.
    Erik was one of the assistant coaches under Pat Riley when Miami grabbed its first NBA crown in 2006.

    On April 29, 2008, he succeeded the Hall of Famer Riley as the Heat’s numero uno bench strategist.

    Spoelstra, who turns 42 on November 1, has piloted Miami to the playoffs – and a winning record – in each of the past four seasons, including a pair of NBA Finals stint the last two years.

    In the first season of the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh era, the Heat stunningly dropped a 4-2 decision to the Dallas Mavericks in the Finals after losing the final three games of the best-of-seven championship duel.

    This year, though, saw a happy ending for the Big Three and Spoelstra as Miami blasted a young Oklahoma City outfit in four straight games in the Finals following a series-opening loss for a 4-1 victory over the Thunder.
  5. Heat Over Thunder

    Just like many others, my take was that Oklahoma City’s youth, athleticism and bench depth would be enough to overpower Miami in this year’s National Basketball Association (NBA) title chase.

    Instead, the Heat proved me wrong, terribly wrong. *Their hard-driving physicality, veteran savvy and mental toughness at crunch time were just too much for the Thunder to overcome.

    As the best-of-seven NBA Finals progressed from one game to another, a Thunder meltdown became evident as OKC went from being young and relentless to being young and reckless.

    In the end, youth was not served and the more experienced Heat took the final four games of the five-game series – including the middle three games (3, 4 and 5) on their home floor – to clinch the second NBA crown in franchise history (the first came in 2006) in their second consecutive trip in the Finals.

    Miami also proved to be a very resilient unit, overcoming series deficits in three straight assignments before emerging victorious. The Heat actually were the first club ever to capture an NBA title after trailing in three different postseason series.

    The Heat were 1-2 vs. Indiana in the East conference semifinals (before winning in six games), 2-3 vs. Boston in the East finals (before gaining a 4-3 decision) and finally, 0-1 vs. Oklahoma City in the Finals, where the Heat captured Game Two in OKC before posting winning scores of 91-85, 104-98 and 121-106 before their friendly supporters at the AmericanAirlines Arena.

    In the Finals, the Heat showed to their skeptics that they were much more than the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade (22.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 5.2 apg, 1.40 spg, 1.20 bpg in the Finals) and Chris Bosh (14.6 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 1.20 bpg). *

    Some members of the supporting cast played their roles well at different times. *
    Defense-oriented Shane Battier shot 11-for-15 from beyond the three-point arc (15-for-26 overall in the series) and contributed 43 points (17, 17 and nine) in the first three games (11.6-point average overall). *

    Rookie guard Norris Cole knocked in a pair of triples (when OKC was ahead 33-16 in the final seconds of the first quarter) and pesky guard Mario Chalmers collected 25 markers in Game Four.

    In the series-clinching Game Five, injury-plagued Mike Miller came off the bench to score 23 points on 7-for-11 field shooting, including 7-of-8 from the trifecta area, and back up an extremely determined James, who finished off the Thunder with a triple-double line of 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists in 44 minutes.

    Deservedly so, LeBron was the unanimous choice as the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player in averaging 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, 7.4 assists and 1.60 steals an outing.

    Most importantly, the 6-8 prep-to-pro forward claimed his first league championship in nine pro seasons, extinguishing the ghosts of the past where his critics merrily pooh-poohed his various individual accomplishments during the regular season simply because he was not a clutch playoff performer and lacked the much-coveted “ring” in his jewelry box.

    Not any more. *James finally gained a championship this season to go with his third Maurice Podoloff (regular MVP) trophy. *He’s the first to turn in the twin trick during the same campaign since Tim Duncan did it with the San Antonio Spurs in 2002-03. *Before James, Duncan also was the last player to post a triple-double in a titles-series clincher (21p-20r-10a, Game 6 vs. New Jersey, 2003).

    After all is said of James and the other players, let’s also give some importance to the role essayed by Heat head coach Erik Celino Spoelstra.

    The mild-mannered Spoelstra surely was a vital piece to the Heat’s NBA championship puzzle this year. *And he’s also got Filipino heritage.

    More on Spoelstra next time.
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