#FIBAU18Asia: Oliver laments struggles of the Philippines

Mike Oliver (PHI)
(Image from FIBA)
*This first appeared on FIBA.com.

The Philippines were among the most heralded squads entering the 2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship, what with marquee names like FIBA 3x3 star Joshua Sinclair and 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship campaigner Jolo Mendoza. So far, however, all the potential and promise of the team known as Batang Gilas have not been able to consistently materialize on the court.

As of this writing, the Philippines carry a losing record — 2 wins against 3 losses. That’s good enough for them to advance to the Quarter-Finals as the third seed of Group A, but, if their current level of play is any indication, Batang Gilas are not expected to go much further.

The Filipinos, in fact, rank among the tournament’s lower half in rebounding (41.8 per game) and two-point field goal shooting (44.2%) and are the most foul-prone squad of all twelve teams (23.8 per game).

Philippines head coach Michael Oliver laments these struggles of his wards, and chalks them up to his players’ adjusting to the environment and competition.

“The players are trying very hard to adjust to the level of play,” Oliver said after the team’s loss to Thailand on Day 4. “They will have a ‘players-only meeting’ to talk about the things they should be doing and how to step up.”

To step up is certainly something the Pinoys will need to do as a unit, especially since the team waiting for them in the next round won’t just roll over. That team is Korea, who won all but one of their Group B games and are brimming with confidence after winning their last three assignments. The winner of this Philippines-Korea affair will face either defending champions China or hosts Iran in the Semi-Finals. The victors there will barge into the Final and, more importantly, cement their spot in the 2017 FIBA U19 World Championship in Cairo, Egypt.

Speaking of stepping up, one guy that Batang Gilas badly needs to rise to the occasion is Sinclair. Apart from his 21-point anomaly against Iraq, Sinclair has been ice cold, shooting a combined 9/34 from the field in the team’s other four games. If he can unleash the form that made him a force to be reckoned with in the FIBA 3x3 circuit, then he can form a dreaded big three along with the spitfire backcourt pairing of Jolo Mendoza and JV Gallego. If that happens, perhaps coach Oliver can breathe more lightly on the sidelines.

In spite of his squad’s fluctuating production, however, coach Oliver remains confident that his wards can accomplish their mission of finishing among the top three.

“Of course, I’m confident,” says Oliver. “As long as we get our acts together at the right time, we’ll be fine.”

His hopeful disposition notwithstanding, coach Oliver also looks back at some unquestionable missed opportunities when he was still trying to form the best possible national U18 team months ago. There were may players invited to training camp and preparation games, but, for one reason or another, many of these invited talents were not able to show their wares due to scheduling conflicts with other tournaments.

In some cases, certain players were not released to the national team by the schools for which they play. He bemoans the fact that Batang Gilas could have added a lot more size and depth had certain marquee U18 players been cleared by their schools for national duty.

“We can only improve,” shares Oliver. “if we can convince all our schools to really support our youth program.”

Still, Oliver is used to making do with what he has been given. For him one thing often overlooked in this kind of tournament is the value of simply competing against and learning from players better than yourself.

“This has been a very important experience for my players,” says Oliver. “When you realize that there is somebody better than you, you will be motivated to keep on practicing and improving.”

Without a doubt, Oliver is hoping his team can greatly improve soon enough (their blowout win over India is a testament to their potential), even if he is grimly aware that it will take something special for Batang Gilas to defeat even bigger and more skilled teams from here on out.




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