We're Number 2!
byon 08-13-2013 at 02:49 PM (1094 Views)
We're finally going to the World Cup of Basketball.
Very few people remember we already qualified once before, in a very different era. During the Danding Cojuangco - Ron Jacobs years we actually qualified for the World Basketball Championships, what the basketball world cup used to be called before the NBA (rightly I believe) patented "world championship" for its own league champion. That year was 1986, something we Filipinos probably remember as when shit got real and EDSA happened. Naturally with Danding flying the coop along with the Marcos conjugal dictators and the rest of the lot, we never got around to actually participating in that world championship tournament.
It was a great time to be a Philippine basketball enthusiast back then. We were Number 1 in Asia. Sure, the competition wasn't all that great, certainly not of the caliber we now routinely face, and we did have three Americans then - Dennis Still, Jeff Moore and Arthur "Chip" Engelland. Jacobs and Conjuangco actually started out with a wholesale importation of eight Americans (including the three holdovers) and then having them naturalized. Still, winning is winning, and that national team certainly did a lot of winning. Those were the guys on their way to the world championships until the whole damn country turned into a revolution circus.
This time around we only get one American (or any other import of our choice) in 6'11" Marcus Douthit. Every one of the top basketball powers in our part of the world is bigger, stronger. We may be able to match them in terms of talent and skill, maybe we're even a little better, but definitely the size factor favors the opposition. As one Gameface Forum member puts it, we used to be the big swinging d--- in Asian basketball, even if everyone else was bigger and stronger, because we were the only ones who could play the game. When everyone else learned the game, they're being bigger was enough to beat us.
Still, the FIBA Asia tournament held on home soil was an eye-opener and a breakthrough for our national basketball program. We finally got a huge Korean monkey off our backs be beating Korea 86-79 in the semifinals and ensuring that we would finish on the podium. We did it without Douthit, after the big American re-injured his tender calf near the end of the second period. We did it with a heck of a third period, when we went turbo in transition behind Jayson Castro William and the outside shooting of almost the entire team. Most of all, we did it with a fourth period windup that featured the gargantuan balls of steel of Jimmy Alapag and the gigantic heart of fire of Marc Pingris. "Nilaban namin 'yon para sa bayan," Pingris tearfully said after that game. This was an all-heart win against a favored team and it was enough to put us back on the international basketball map. This has to be the sweetest silver medal finish in the history of Philippine sports.
National team head coach Chot Reyes can finally silence all of his doubters and critics. His dribble-drive offense predicated on speed demon guards like Castro works. If he had two more legitimately bigger players manning the forward slots we might have had just enough size and strength to beat Iran for the gold medal. 6'7" Jay Washington and 6'7" Kelly Williams certainly would have been first class upgrades over say 6'2" Gary David and 6'3" Larry Fonacier. 6-foot Stanley Pringle, the man making his name in the ASEAN Basketball League would have also been an upgrade over 5'7" LA Tenorio. Certainly Iran's 6'6" swingman "The Iron" Nik Bahrami would have had a harder time trying to get past Washington and / or Williams.
Now the next goal is to put together a respectable enough showing at the Basketball World Cup in Spain next year. We had a hard enough time trying to stay with 7'2" Iranian center Hamid Ehadadi, strictly an NBA role player, as well as the Korean trio of 6'10" Kim Joo Sung, 6'9" Lee Jong Hyun and 6'9" Yang Dong Gun. It will be more monumental a task in Spain with the Gasol Brothers of Spain who are both legit 7-footers and NBA All Stars, to say nothing of the all-NBA US team.
Reyes and team management might want to find a replacement for Douthit, who is already 33 years old and has shown that all it takes is one bad misstep from him to shoot the entire team down. Someone a little younger and sturdier with some international and/or legit NBA experience ought to do it. I'm thinking 7'1" former Miami Heat backup center Earl Barron, or if he's stopped being a knucklehead, maybe even 7'1" former PBA Best Import Chris Alexander. Someone just speak up in the comments section if Alexander is actually already 35 years old, because I seem to recall he was only 24 or 25 back in 2008 when last I interviewed the man, which should make him maybe 31 at most by 2014. Barron I think is about that same age as well. When a basketball player reaches 30, every year after that is a step closer to fully breaking down physically, hence my preference for someone younger. If Denzel Bowles had the same package but was a legit 7-feet at least he'd be my Number 1 choice, but at 6'10" he won't be much help internationally.
I'd also like to put to rest any talk on the matter of whether this Gilas team is not as good as that old NCC team. That old NCC team did after all win the ABC Championship (precursor to this FIBA Asia) and was on its way to the world championship tournament. Let me just say however that given all the improvements to the race of basketball players, there is no way in hell Jacobs's crew would beat Reyes's crew in a Best-of-7 title series, just no way.
I hope the weather will be nice in Spain when the World Cup rolls around next year.