Why 3rd Place Matters, and Other Jones Cup Bullets

The Pinoy fans celebrate as Gilas cops 3rd place in the 2011 Jones Cup.
(image from Basketball-tpe.org)

In any major basketball tournament, there are only two medals that are earned by winning. Getting the gold medal is the first and most obvious one. The oft-underappreciated one is getting the bronze medal, or third place. Many times, if not all the time, sports scribes, dedicated observers and armchair analysts (like me!) describe getting the bronze as “settling” – they settled for third place, our team settled for the bronze.

Let’s change that.

Let’s make 3rd place matter, because it does.

3rd place matters for 3 reasons (how’s that for numerical consistency?!).

First of all, 3rd place matters because it’s a tangible representation of a team’s character. No team ever plays for 3rd place after a win. Being in a 3rd place game means a team lost in the semifinals, or had a record that simply wasn’t enough to place that team in the championship game. It means a team has fallen short. But it’s also an opportunity to prove how tough a team’s mettle is – how well they can pick themselves up and win again. Team Pilipinas has had a not-so-auspicious history with 3rd place. I remember the following instances:

1994 Asian Games: The Philippine Team, predominantly composed of San Miguel Beermen, lost to China in the semifinals and had to face the home team, Japan, in the battle for the bronze. If I remember correctly, we lost after Ato Agustin missed a corner jumper that could’ve tied it. Final score was 79-76.

2002 Asian Games: A day after Lee Sang-Min dashed our gold-laden hopes with a top-of-the-key buzzer-beating three, Team Pilipinas had to face Kazakhstan for 3rd place. We had a good start, leading 22-16 after the first quarter, but we quickly folded after the Kazakhs made a run in the 2nd stanza. It seemed we just didn’t have enough fight in us as we allowed Vitaly Strebkov to unload 30 points in the paint. We lost, 68-66.

Asi Taulava was part of the 2002 "Heartbreak"
Philippine NT.
(image from Basketball-tpe.org)
2009 FIBA-Asia U16 Championships: Team Pilipinas, led by high school standouts Kiefer Ravena, Von Pessumal and Jeron Teng, barged into the semifinals toting a 5-1 record, with the lone defeat at the hands of the taller Iranians. We faced powerhouse China, led by their own phenom Guo Ailun, in the Final Four and were beaten 85-66. We ended up having a rematch with Iran for third. It went into overtime as we missed a last-second putback to win the game in regulation. We eventually lost, 83-73.

2010 FIBA-Asia Stankovic Cup: Smart-Gilas Pilipinas had a good run here, beating Syria, Jordan and Iran before facing Fadi El-Khatib and the Lebanese in the semis. Lebanon, who earlier beat Gilas 74-59 in the elims, repeated over the Pinoys, albeit by the slightest of margins at 81-80. We ended up facing an old nemesis, the Qataris, for third. We had another fast start, leading by 9 after the first canto, but little by little Qatar chipped at the lead, and they eventually overwhelmed us, 80-75.

2011 FIBA-Asia Champions Cup: Again, Smart-Gilas had a great tourney. They swept their first five assignments before bowing to Samad Nkkhah Bahrami and the Iranians in the semifinals, 80-77. We faced Qatar anew for third place, and the result was the same – another loss, 71-64.

If we are put in the same position again, we need to win bronze, and this is the second reason why. 3rd place matters because it means a team ends on a winning note. It always leaves a bad taste when a team bows out of any competition with a loss. Nobody wants to take a plane ride home with his most recent memory involving having to endure the opposing team’s cheers and cackles. Getting 3rd place means a team goes on the podium smiling after a win. In one way, it’s even a little better than 2nd place, because, again, a team ends on the positive end. A last day win means hope is not lost. It means the team closes out on the up-and-up. It means that the bronze didn’t just land on their lap, but that they fought for it and earned it. Beating the Taiwanese in Taiwan in front of a sizeable number of Filipino fans last week was a hundred times better than simply going thru the motions and getting 4th place. That would’ve left a really bad impression. But Gilas didn’t do that. Gilas fought. They earned that 3rd place finish, and, perhaps, it’s a harbinger of better things to come in the near future.

Mac Baracael helped Gilas get a podium spot
in the 2011 Jones Cup.
Lastly, 3rd place matters, especially in this year’s FIBA-Asia Men’s Championship, because it means the door to the Olympics is left open ever so slightly. Yes, there is only one Olympic slot given to Asia outright, but landing in 2nd or 3rd means a team qualifies for a wildcard tournament to get to the Olympics via the “backdoor.” And, yes, winning any of the 3 available wildcard slots against teams from Europe, Africa or the Americas will be even tougher than winning it in Asia, but the level of competition our boys will be exposed to will certainly benefit them no matter the result. That alone is enough reason to get motivated.

Is Marcus Douthit the big difference between a history of
frustration and a future of promise?
(image from Basketball-tpe.org)
So 3rd place matters. It’s symbolic of a team’s character. It’s the only other medal earned thru a win. It means our dream of playing in the Olympics continues on. It matters.

2011 Jones Cup Bullets:

-       Iran might be better without Samad Nikkhah Bahrami and/or Mehdi Kamrani. Without those two players, coach Veselin Matic was able to dump the ball down low to Hamed Haddadi much quicker. It allowed the Memphis Grizzly to dominate, and dominate he did. Samad and Mehdi are offensive threats in their own right, but one gets the feeling Haddadi could carry this team even without them. Of course, this was not the actual FIBA-Asia tourney, so I’m sure the Iranian fans would still prefer having a complete complement of talents when the Wuhan joust starts.
-       Save for Ha Seung-Jin, who’s not even that good, Korea’s big men aren’t really big, but they’re very very effective. Consider the following:
o   Kim Joo-Sung is 6’8”
o   Oh Se-Keun is barely 6’7”
o   Kim Jong-Kyu is 6’9”

Oh Se-Keun is smaller than many PBA bigs, but
he has dominated against the Pinoys in the recent past.
(image from Basketball-tpe.org)
-       We have loads of pro players who are just as tall, but, sadly, it seems they aren’t as “durable.” I remember Kim Joo-Sung competing against Marlou Aquino and Andy Seigle in the 1998 Jones Cup. Kim was still part of Korea’s youth team then, and they lost to Team Pilipinas by 18, but flashes of brilliance could already be seen from him. Fast forward 13 years later and he’s still a vital part of Korea’s senior NT. Who was the last Pinoy big man to be a star on the national level for that long? I remember Oh putting up 30 points against Powerade Team Pilipinas in the battle for 7th place in the 2009 FIBA-Asia Championships. And Oh is no taller than Sonny Thoss or Asi! Guys like Rabeh Al-Hussaini, Samigue Eman, Yancy De Ocampo and Joe Devance would probably stand as tall or just a shade shorter than Kim, certainly taller than Oh, but, unfortunately, it seems our boys just don’t perform as well internationally. Why is that? Beats me. I’m sure the talent is there, but something is holding them back, and I sure as hell hope we can figure it out soon.
-       Taiwan doesn’t seem to have changed – they’re still the bootleg version of Team Korea. They play the same as the Koreans, just not as consistently. They have their reputed shooters in Chen Hsin-An and Lin Chih-Chieh. They have good big men in Tseng Wen-Ting and Wu Tai-Hao, who missed the Jones cup. They have up-and-coming young players in Jet Chang, Doug Creighton and Chien Chia-Hung. But they just cannot get over the proverbial hump, and I believe their woes will continue in Wuhan. They’ll definitely get to the second round, but teams like Iran, Lebanon, Korea and Qatar will probably make it past the Taiwanese into the knockout phase.

Tseng Wen-Ting's game will be a vital part of
Taiwan's plans in the 2011 FIBA-Asia.
(image from Basketball-tpe.org)
-       Jordan will be a force even without some key big men. Old-as-time center Ayman Idais has reportedly retired from the NT, veteran Zaid Al-Khas is not the bouncy and burly fellow he used to be, and half-German Jamal Al-Maaytah has been deemed ineligible because he already played for the German youth team. Nevertheless, coach Tab Baldwin still has more than enough tools in his shed to contend for the Olympic slot. A naturalized player always helps, and Rasheim Wright is as good as any you can find in the international circuit. The key, though, will be the play of frontliners Zaid Abbas, Islam Abbaas, and Ali Zaghab. If all three stay healthy and play to form, then Jordan should get far, but if they falter, then so will Jordan’s chances.
-       If this is Japan’s B Team, then their A Team might just be a world-beater. Who ever heard of KJ Matsui and Takeki Shonaka before the 2011 Jones Cup? Barely anyone I guess, but most Asian hoop fans should know them by now. And they’re not part of Japan’s A Team? Wow. Coach Thomas Wiseman must be pumped about his chances.

KJ Matsui is one of the deadliest shooters in the continent,
and he's not even part of Japan's A Team.
(image from Basketball-tpe.org)
-       Malaysia is on the rise. Team Malaysia won’t scare any team in the upcoming FIBA-Asia tourney, but if they play really well they can be good enough to play spoilers. They might even pull the rug form under the Pinoys in the 2011 SEA Games.
-       UAE will make it to the 2011 FIBA-Asia second round, and then no more. Because they’re marginally better than Bahrain, the Emirates will make it to the second round, where they’ll go up against the likes of Jordan, Japan and Syria. Needless to say, they’ll get a swift exit afterwards.

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