Gilas is Getting There

image from
Smart-Gilas Pilipinas -- old photo
(image from
If you look at the current results of the Smart-Gilas experiment that started in 2009, you won’t find yourself fraught with excitement or optimism. It’s not exactly the monumental turnaround for Philippine basketball that a lot of people might have expected.


5th place in the 2009 FIBA-Asia Champions Cup held in Jakarta, Indonesia.
3rd place in the 2010 Dubai International Basketball Tournament held in, well, Dubai (duh), UAE.
Champions in the 2010 MVP Cup held here in Manila.
4th place in the 2010 Jones Cup in Taipei, Chinese-Taipei.
4th place in the 2010 FIBA-Asia Stankovic Cup in Beirut, Lebanon.
2nd place in the 2010 Asian Basketball Association Club Championship in Haining, China.
7th place in the 2010 FIBA-Asia Champions Cup in Doha, Qatar.
4th place in the 2011 FIBA-Asia Champions Cup in Manila.
*I chose not to include their PBA stints anymore, since I wanted to focus on how they’ve done in the international circuit only.

Coach Rajko has had a positive influence
(image the Smart-Gilas FaceBook page)
Only one title. 2 other podium finishes. Not particularly stellar right?

Reason to cry for Gilas’s abolishment? Of course not. Unless you’re particularly of the insane variety.

They haven’t been out-of-this-world, but what once was a rag-tag bunch of fresh-from-college tenderfoots (okay, you can also use tenderFEET) has made the gradual transformation into a speedy, streaky, but cohesive unit that can zip and zap with the best in the continent.

This is not to say Gilas is flawless. Far from it. Even their own coach, that veteran bench tactician who’s an apparent early riser and walker in Eastwood City, Rajko Toroman, attests to inconsistent shooting, unsteady rebounding and perpetual lack of ceiling as cracks in our collective carapace. Pessimist pundits are all too happy to rail on about these weaknesses.

Marcus Douthit has become a tower of power
for Smart-Gilas
(image the Smart-Gilas FaceBook page)
I’d personally love to eventually see Marcus Douthit team up with a Norman Black-trained Greg Slaughter up front with Japeth Aguilar playing the 3 and, perhaps, Bobby Ray Parks and Kiefer Ravena manning the backcourt. That would be a five for the ages right there. Of course Jayvee Casio can replace Kiefer due to his supreme sniping, or if Gian Chiu’s foot ever gets fully healed, and he further improves on his footwork, he could spot Japeth/Greg too. Oh the possibilities!!!

And certainly there is still a host of possibilities for Gilas.

They are set to dominate (who’d expect anything less?) the upcoming 2011 SEABA Championships in Jakarta (June 23-26). They will then make a run for the single 2012 London Olympics slot available when the FIBA-Asia Men’s Championships commence in Wuhan, China (September 15-25).

They should make mincemeat out of our ASEAN neighbors in the SEABA meet, but they will encounter uber tough competition in Wuhan. They’ll get reacquainted with the likes of Zhu Fangyu (China), Oh Se-Keun (South Korea), Takumi Ishizaki (Japan), and Wu Tai-Hao (Taiwan), apart from the Asian giants they just finished rubbing elbows with in the recently concluded Champions Cup (hello Samad Nikkhah Bahrami, Fadi El-Khatib, Sam Dahglas and Targuy Ngombo). It’ll be a smorgasbord of hardwood hell for Gilas, and it will be the truest test of the program.

In reality, it is this tournament that will determine whether the Gilas experiment was ultimately a success or not. And how will success be measured?

Can Japeth Aguilar further improve
to help Gilas?
(image the Smart-Gilas FaceBook page)
The main goal was always to nail the slot for 2012. But, honestly, it will take nothing short of a minor miracle for us to reach that objective. Look at the teams that have already qualified:

China (host)
Lebanon (Stankovic Cup champs)
Qatar, UAE and Bahrain via the Gulf Cup qualifying tournament

And those who SHOULD qualify:
East Asia (3 more slots): South Korea, Japan and Taiwan
SEA (2 slots aside from us): Malaysia and Indonesia
West Asia (3 more slots): Iran, Jordan and Syria
 Middle Asia (2 slots): Kazakhstan and, perhaps, India or Uzbekistan

Barring any monumentally tragic grouping (like the one that happened in Tokushima, Japan in 2007), we should breeze through the preliminaries. The quarterfinals, though, is where our mettle will be truly challenged. That’s the acid test. Get past that, into the medal round and anything’s possible.

I’d probably rank Gilas behind China (at relatively full strength), Iran, Lebanon and South Korea, but a little ahead of Jordan, Japan, Taiwan, Syria and Kazakhstan. Yao Ming certainly won’t play. Reports suggest Yi Jianlian might not make it too. Ditto with Iran’s Hamed Haddadi. This leaves us an ideal situation that we must be all too eager to exploit.

But, again, it’ll be tough. Everyone knows the other teams are beefed up too. Qatar has its un-Qatari-looking stars (they are reportedly native Africans) backing up perennial leader Yasseen Musa. Lebanon has its naturalized player in Jackson Vroman, and Leb-Am Matt Freije. Of course Jordan has its naturalized playmaker Rasheim Wright too. Taiwan is reportedly wooing Golden State Warrior Jeremy Lin to suit up, as well as BYU-Hawaii star Jet Chang. Former NBA players Yuta Tabuse and Ha Seung-Jin should don their respective nation’s colors as well.

And who do we have?

Chris Tiu is more than just
a baby-faced playmaker
(image the Smart-Gilas FaceBook page)
Chris “Master by Eskinol” Tiu.

Of course we have a lot of good players aside from Chris, but our star power is visibly invisible compared to our neighbors’.

I believe getting that Olympic berth will demand, more than anything, consistency on both ends. If our shooting doesn’t dip considerably, if we can keep the rebound numbers close, and, somehow, find a way to contain (not necessarily shutdown, but that would be welcome too) the other teams’ stars then hope floats.

But, again, our fate rests on so many IFs.

2011 will be the year Gilas makes, or breaks, the grade. This is where the climactic phase of the experiments comes to fruition, or explodes in our faces.

Mac Baracael needs more consistent
shooting for Gilas to succeed
(image the Smart-Gilas FaceBook page)
Gilas only has one championship to show in its short existence, and that was won on local soil.

We are the proverbial, and literal, Davids against the proverbial, and literal, Goliaths of Asia. The underdogs of underdogs. The Mighty Ducks. The Big Green. The Dallas Mavericks.

Yes, we are the good guys, too. Good enough to rally a country divided by so many things. Good enough to make us proud, even if we fail to reach the Olympics.

But I hope Gilas does it. It’s still quite a ways away, and Gilas isn’t quite “there” yet, but they’re well on their way.

They’re getting there.

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