By Drei Christopher Villanueva
Gilas Pilipinas 5.0, which is now being reinforced by amateur standouts, experienced birthing pains in their first international campaign when they lost their first three games to India, Chinese Taipei and China in the FIBA Asia Challenge Cup. Although the Philippines salvaged some measure of pride by beating Kazakhstan later on, Jordan shut the door on the Pinoys’ aspirations with a win over Chinese Taipei Wednesday.
For the past four years, the national team has been represented by PBA stars in a tournament of this magnitude, while amateur players usually represent the country in tournaments in the Southeast Asian level like the SEABA and the SEA Games. For this year, however, FIBA decided to change its calendar, following the creation of the home and away format, a six-window event leading to the 2019 World Cup. Because of this, officials of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) saw the need to have a team on standby so as not to disrupt the PBA calendar.
The PBA usually supports the national team program by lending its players for major international tournaments such as the qualifying events for the World Cup and the Olympics, as well as the Asian Games. With the new Gilas’ relative inexperience, it was unfortunate that they had to debut against the best players from all over Asia, many of whom are national team veterans.
Nine-time PBA champion coach and mentor of the Philippine team to the 2002 Busan Asian Games, TNT Katropa Coach Jong Uichico knows the birthing pains a young team such as the new Gilas will have to face. Back in the 1980s, he was a member of the old Northern Consolidated team before becoming part of the long-term national squad program during the 1980s.
“They’re up against some of the national teams in the region and some of their best players. It’s not surprising our team would lose to these squads. But we were not beaten badly. It’s just that the other teams are more superior than the one we sent. Bukod sa mga bata, kulang rin sa preparations dahil halos one month lang silang nag-train and some of the amateur standouts have commitments.”
“We had birth pains, too…we were beaten badly in tune up matches and scrimmages. But we became successful because we trained for six months,” said Uichico.
Former national coach Yeng Guiao, who headed up the Philippine squad to the 2009 FIBA Asia Championship remains firm on his belief that the best solution to forming a competitive Philippine quintet is to tap PBA players.
“That’s because the talented players are playing in the PBA,” said Guiao. “We have proven that before. In the past, they said they want the amateur players to represent the national team as part of its long term program, but in the end, they relied on the PBA. They decided to tap PBA players particularly when playing in the elite tournaments…Why not send the best players to send the best team?”
Guiao went on to say that since the national team is being represented by amateur standouts who went up against some of the best in the region, basketball-loving Pinoys would have to manage their expectations, adding that, “it would really take some time before they could contend against the best in the region.”
While Gilas 5.0 admittedly, has a long way to go on the way to international glory, there’s no doubt their heats are in the right place, and for that, they have our full support.