July 25, 2024

For several nights, I diligently watched the games of the 2023 FIBA World Cup on the Internet especially paying rapt attention to the games of the Gilas Pilipinas national squad.
Ironically, the team lost and with its loses, I am one of the millions of Filipino basketball fans who sulked and moped at the close defeats suffered in the hands of superior opponents.
Not that the Filipino players failed to compete at the highest level, but it also shows that the other teams they were pitted against were better, both mentally and physically.
The European and African teams were made up of tall and banged up bodies that were built for the game. When ranged against their Filipino counterparts, they were obviously faster, stronger, and mentally tougher.
Watching the FIBA games revealed two things about the development of basketball here and abroad. First is that the trend when it comes to strategizing is “team ball” where there is no single player controlling the flow of the game.
The old school of thought where players isolate their star so that he can go “one-on-one” no longer applies.
Sure, it is entertaining, but it does not win games. Second, there are no longer fixed positions such that even seven footers, who traditionally only play around the three second area, now shoot three pointers. Their game is no longer concentrated on rebounding or posting low on the block. They have evolved into becoming multi-dimensional players who can play all positions and shoot anywhere in the court. In like manner, point guards and power forwards may shift to occupy the position of shooting guards or small forwards depending on the contingencies of the game.
Parenthetically, much like our mentality about divorce where we remain to be the only country refusing to legislate it, our basketball has, by far remained stagnant. The brand of play remains to be “one-on-one” with the traditional player rotations sorely lacking. Centers remain to be centers and guards and forwards strictly remain guards and forwards.
There is no diversity and the adaptability of the players remains the same throughout the game. For instance, in the entirety of the tournament, Junemar Fajardo never attempted to take a single three point shot. He can’t do it.
The same with Kai Sotto. He’s too soft around the corner that he is pushed and bullied around by smaller cagers.
CJ Perez could not bring the ball down with efficiency because he is not a natural point guard. With all due respect to Jordan Clarkson, he hogged the ball too much playing “one-on-one” NBA type of basketball even though he was making too many turnovers. The result was catastrophic. Too many lapses and too many missed baskets. When these happen, winning becomes a hard proposition to achieve.
There were games that the Gilas Pilipinas players should have won. Their initial salvo against the Dominican Republic of NBA superstar Karl Anthony Towns or their earlier substantial lead against Angola was a testimony that the team had the necessary tool and talent to go as far as to upset favored teams if they set their minds into it. But just when the victory is already in sight, doubt gets the better of their judgment and they wilt under pressure thereby committing too many mistakes especially toward the end of their games.
In short, they lose their poise because they do not have the mental toughness that is required to earn victories in this type of competition where the talent is high and the margin of error is low.
Notwithstanding, the Samahang Basketball ng Pilipinas tries to appease our frustrations by saying that the close defeats are good learning experiences that will carry basketball in this country in good stead and that in the next tournament, our team shall fare better.
Oh my God, I thought I’ve heard those same words before.
In 2014, when Gilas had a decent showing by winning one game against Senegal, they said that. Such similar refrain no longer pacifies die-hard Filipino basketball fans who, while not demanding a medal finish, yearn to see the national team develop into a cohesive and well-oiled machine that can play according to the norms of the time.