July 21, 2024

The Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) is the lowliest international sports competition that the Philippines participates in.
It is a regional tournament held every two years where the best athletes from among the Southeast Asian countries compete for regional supremacy. The standard of competition is way below that of the Olympics or even the Asian Games, yet, it means so much for the pride of any of the participating nations to dominate, especially in fields where they excel in. The same is expected of the Philippine contingent.
Hence, Indonesia is not supposed to lose in badminton. Thailand is not supposed to lose in sepak takraw. Singapore is not supposed to lose in swimming. And the Philippines is not supposed to lose in basketball.
In the recently concluded SEAG, the Phi-lippines garnered 52 gold, 70 silver and 104 bronze medals, which is good for fourth place behind Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia.
This is a far cry from its performance two years ago when it gained the most medals in the tally giving it the overall championship. Yeah, it felt good then and while it still feels good after the 31st SEA Games, there are factors that undermine our enthusiasm.
Mostly, it has to do with the results of the basketball competition. The Philippine men’s basketball team could only finish second to Indonesia. This is unthinkable considering the fact that in this region, our team is supposed to dominate.
Our team is not supposed to lose. But in this version, the Gilas team scuttled and scattered for the silver medal. The silver medal is not enough to douse the frustration of the Filipino basketball-loving people who expected nothing less than gold. You see, the Filipino cagers were unbeatable in the past racing to as many gold medals as there were basketball competitions in the games. Not this time.
Looking at the campaign of the basketball quintet in the biennial meet, it was doomed from the start. The team was hastily assembled when the original team made up of collegiate stand-outs organized specifically for this purpose got disbanded. Its head coach Tab Baldwin opted out to concentrate in preparing his college team, Ateneo, to win the University Athletic Association of the Philippines meet.
Not only did Ateneo lost to University of the Philippines, the rag-tag team of Gilas lost to a better and well-prepared Indonesian squad. It did not help much that Indonesia was coached by Rajko Toroman, the previous coach of Gilas. He knew too much of the Philippine team to be able to beat it. And he did.
Of course, there is finger-pointing and lame excuses among our basketball leaders on why the Philippine team lost. They say that the Indonesian team had an NBA import and is reinforced by Indonesian-Americans playing in level one competition in the United States.
However, is this not the same for our team? Is not our team reinforced by the likes of Mathew Wright, Lebron Lopez, and Mau Tautau? They are Fil-Ams who had extensive exposure with the American kind of basketball. Is not the formula being employed by the Indonesian Basketball Association in recruiting players with American blood for its national team the same as what the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) is doing?
If at all, the loss of the Philippines in the recent SEA games basketball tournament to an inferior team is an eye opener that we can no longer claim regional supremacy in this sport. Other countries are catching up fast and the only way to distance our players from theirs is to prepare accordingly. Gone are the days when the SBP can send college players or form a team at a short notice and still expect to win at all. This is no longer feasible.
At least, there is still another SEA games in the forthcoming two years. We must regain the gold if we are to restore our pride as a basketball breathing and eating nation.
To do this, the SBP must start a serious program to attain this purpose. And it should start now lest another debacle is on the line.