I Believe in Gilas

Team photo of Smart-Gilas Pilipinas in Wuhan, China.
(image from FIBAAsia.net)

Disagreeing with Recah Trinidad and Yeng Guiao, and Believing in Philippine Basketball.

I’ll go straight to the point and just say that the Smart-Gilas program was a success. Doubters can harp all they like about Gilas not meeting its 3-year objective of making the 2012 London Olympics via the 2011 FIBA-Asia Men’s Championship, but the 8-place jump from 53rd to 45th in the world rankings is nothing to scoff at. Neither are the other good showings of the team in the recent past:

-       Top 4 in the 2011 FIBA-Asia tourney
-       3rd place in the 2011 Jones Cup
-       Top 4 in the 2011 FIBA-Asia Champions Cup
-       Top 4 in the 2010 FIBA-Asia Stankovic Cup (without Marcus Douthit)
-       Champion of the 2011 SEABA Championship
-       Top 6 in the 2010 Asian Games (without Marcus Douthit)
-       Top 4 in the 2010 Jones Cup
-       2nd place in the 4th Asian Basketball Association Club Championship

Gilas is one of the most decorated National Teams
we've ever produced.
(image from FIBAAsia.net)
And what of the two PBA-riddled teams before Gilas? Coach Chot Reyes’s (Reyes was part of the Gilas contingent in the 2011 FIBA-Asia) San Miguel-Team Pilipinas finished 3rd in the 2007 Jones Cup and 9th in the 2007 FIBA-Asia Championships. They would have certainly gotten in the Top 8 if not for them being placed in the “group of death,” but such is the nature of international basketball competitions. Two years later, coach Yeng Guiao’s Powerade Team Pilipinas wound up a measly 6th in the 2009 Jones Cup and 8th in the 2009 FIBA-Asia Championships. Take note, however, that neither team enjoyed the services of a naturalized player, BUT they did have all-pro rosters that could certainly hang, even overtake, with Gilas in terms of pure talent. (I seriously doubt both teams would’ve done as well as Gilas even if Douthit were already playing for the country then)

Does this mean both Reyes and Guiao are inept coaches? Of course not. They’re great coaches, great basketball minds who wouldn’t have gotten as far as they have without being awesome tacticians, BUT at the time they took the Team Pilipinas helm, they just weren’t of the mold that could typically succeed in international ball. I still cringe at Powerade Team Pilipinas’s video clips on YouTube. They typify stereotypical Filipino play – flashy individuality trumping team chemistry. We put out all-star teams when we should’ve produced tailor-made teams built for the FIBA game.

Which is why Gilas is a success, and why I disagree with coach Guiao’s observation that coach Rajko Toroman did nothing new and with Recah Trinidad’s unfounded criticisms of the team’s (coach Toroman’s specifically) performance. This is a team modeled after the teams that have succeeded, or risen from the doldrums, of late – teams like Iran, Lebanon, and Jordan.

Coach Rajko Toroman's system is a proved winner
in the international basketball scene.
(image from FIBAAsia.net)
And what is that model? Simple. Get your best young talents and develop them in the long-run. Surround the on-court talent with the best available minds in the international game. Be patient. It’ll take some time, but someday it’ll be worth it.

When Lebanon, with the now ubiquitous basketball star Fadi El-Khatib, started their program in 1999, they finished 7th in the Asian Championships (it was called ABC back then, which stood for the Asian Basketball Confederation). Then two years later, with tons of experience and international exposure tucked under their belts, they finished 2nd in the continent. They’ve finished in the Top 4 ever since, until this year that is.

Jordan and Iran also went through a similar framework. Iran had loads of talent with the Bahrami brothers (we all know Samad Nikkhah, but his deceased older brother Aidin Nikkhah was a sight to watch, too), Mehdi Kamrani, and Hamed Haddadi. What nobody really paid attention to, though, is that it took them a long time to get where they are now. That core of Iranian stars started their first tour of duty in the 2003 ABC Championships, where Iran placed 5th after missing the competition for 6 years. They placed 6th in 2005 and eventually ambushed everyone by taking the crown in 2007 and then in 2009. It took them 3 FIBA-Asia Championship tourneys (and a bronze medal finish in the 2006 Asian Games) to win their first crown, and now they’re considered at par, or even better, than China.

In the meantime, Jordan had to go through some changes in mindset as well. They started scouring the world for athletic players of Jordanian descent, eventually finding gems in Sam Daghlas (Jordanian-American), Zaid Abbas and Islam Abbaas (both Jordanian-Palestinians) and the now deemed ineligible Jamal Maaytah (Jordanian-German who played on the German Youth Team before). They also naturalized super wingman Rasheim Wright. Did their success come instantly? Hell no. They finished 10th in the 2003 ABC Championships, 7th in the 2005 FIBA-Asia, 5th in 2007, 3rd in 2009 and 2nd this year. It took them almost 10 years to break through and play in the championship game.

Can JV Casio and the rest of Smart-Gilas continue their
upward trajectory in Asian basketball?
(image from FIBAAsia.net)
It might take Gilas as long or even longer than that. Or, if our stars align and everyone gets on the same boat, it might not have to take that long at all. At the end of our 3-year program, in the team’s first ever FIBA-Asia Men’s tourney, they finished 4th. That is nothing short of AWESOME, and anyone who believes otherwise is spewing gas out of his backside. It’s an awesome start, an awesome early result for the program, and an awesome building block for the future.

I don’t know what has to be done in the near or distant future. Should we add 10 PBA players to complement the remaining Gilas players (Douthit and Chris Tiu)? Should we take on a new set of amateurs and hone them for 2013 (Ray Parks, Greg Slaughter, Aldrech Ramos, Junmar Fajardo, Ronald Pascual and Kiefer Ravena come to mind)? Should we scour the globe for foreign-based Pinoys/Fil-Foreigners willing to don the national colors (Gian Chiu, Nico Monachini, Christian Standhardinger, Stephen Holt, Isaac Holstein, Chris Banchero, Negus Webster-Chan, Chis Blake, Jordan Sanvictores, Terrel Theophile and Richard Smith could top the list)? Should we begin looking for a younger version of Marcus Douthit?

Who will be Marcus Douthit version 2.0?
(image from FIBAAsia.net)
I don’t know.

But what I do know is this: we should be thankful for all the people (Pinoy and non-Pinoy) who contributed to the success of Gilas. We should be grateful for the efforts of all those who pushed for, FINALLY, a coherent program for the National Team. This time it’s not some “instant noodle” solution where we put together a PBA All-Star team, train them for several months and hope for the best. This time we have an actual roadmap and proven framework to guide us.

This time we have a deep pool of talent (PBA, amateur and foreign ranks) from which to get players, and, FINALLY, an internationally-experienced and bemedalled mentor on the sidelines. We now have all the materials with which to build our future success.

It’s time to believe again.

I believe.

You should too.

Believe again. Believe always.
(image from FIBAAsia.net)
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2 Comment

I still remember Trinidad's comments abou game fixing in last year's UAAP Finals, so I don't really put much stock in his comments.


very well said kudos to smart gilas:)