#FIBAOQT: Has the cutting of Abueva and Tenorio divided Philippine fans?

(Image from FIBA)

*This first appeared on my weekly column on FIBA.com.

The energetic Calvin Abueva and veteran LA Tenorio were cut from the final 12-man roster of the Philippines, and it has been met with strong reactions. I mean, few countries, if any, around the world can match the fervor and passion of Philippine basketball fans. Even fewer can count so many individuals who are as opinionated as Filipino hoop nuts.

This is not the first time, of course, that Philippine fans have reacted so strongly to the final composition of their national team. People bemoaned the 2011 Gilas Pilipinas team — coached by iconic Serbian tactician Rajko Toroman — that was mostly made up of amateurs. They let their discontent be heard when some Philippine Basketball Association teams actively limited their contributions to Gilas Pilipinas to just one player each. Recently, in 2015, they relentlessly criticized the non-inclusion of stalwarts like June Mar Fajardo, Marcio Lassiter and Greg Slaughter from the team that was sent to the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship.

And now this.

People all over the 7,107 islands of this vast archipelago waited with bated breath this past Sunday as Gilas Pilipinas coach Tab Baldwin and his group of assistant coaches were set to reveal their final cuts. Not surprisingly, people speculated online and gave their own picks as to which players would remain and which ones would be sent packing.

When the dust settled, Tenorio and Abueva were the ones left out of the final 12-man roster that will wage war with France and New Zealand in group B of the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila.

Both Tenorio and Abueva have seen their own share of international competition. Tenorio last played for Gilas Pilipinas in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup and 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, Korea. Abueva, meanwhile, was a vital cog of the Gilas Pilipinas quintet that lost to China in the Final of the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship in Changsha-Hunan.

Both are also very accomplished in the PBA. Tenorio is perennially among the league’s top assists men, and he has been on the Mythical First Team twice. Abueva, meanwhile, has torn up the league since entering in 2012. He has been a member of the Mythical First and Second teams and the All-Defensive Team. Most recently, he was proclaimed the Best Player of the Conference for the 2016 PBA Commissioner’s Cup.

Given their stature in the PBA, their experience in international competition and their innate talent, Tenorio and Abueva, many felt, were strong contenders to remain among the final twelve. As it turned out, however, the Gilas Pilipinas braintrust had other things in mind.

When asked about these cuts, former Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes remarked that perhaps size was the biggest factor. Abueva, at just 1.88m/6ft 2in, and Tenorio, at only 1.70m/5ft 7in, are much smaller then their would-be foes playing the same positions. Abueva plays small forward, and he would have matched up with the likes of Mika Vukona and Nando De Colo, both of whom are 1.96m/6ft 5in or taller. Tenorio, meanwhile, would have played opposite the likes of Corey Webster, Tony Parker and Thomas Huertel, none of whom are smaller than 1.85m/6ft 1in.

Coach Tab probably looked at these potential match-ups, and, knowing that he had so little room for error in such a short tournament as the OQT, it shouldn’t be a shocker that he chose to go with a bigger roster. Who are we, after all, to doubt his experience and achievements in the international basketball circuit?

In a recent interview, coach Tab mentioned that his final roster may not necessarily be composed of the best or most valuable twelve players, but that they are the players who match what the Philippines need in the OQT.

Still, that offers little consolation to the people who firmly believe in the capabilities and potential contributions of Tenorio and Abueva. To these fans, Tenorio and Abueva embody a “never say die” spirit and the Filipinos’ own unique style of play.

Has this move divided Philippine fans? Based on social media noise, perhaps, but everyone knows that when the buzzer sounds to kick off the OQT, they will all be yelling one thing in unison.





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