On losing big and the Final 12 of Gilas Pilipinas

Should we be worried after Gilas got blown out by Turkey and Italy? Frankly speaking? Yes, we should be worried. We should be worried not simply because of by HOW MUCH our boys lost (an average of 35.5 points in those two preparation games), but mainly because of HOW they lost.

Gilas Pilipinas struggled from the perimeter in their games against the 12 Giant Men of Turkey and the Azzurri. Gilas couldn’t consistently defend their opponents’ shooters well enough and couldn’t compensate on the offensive end by hitting their own threes. Not surprisingly, this was compounded by Gilas’ having a lot of trouble on the boards. For a team whose effectiveness is heavily predicated on speed and shooting, Gilas’ inability to make its outside shots and grab the rebounds that may directly lead to more transition opportunities were ultimately two big factors in losing to the Turks and Italians.

Our opponents’ size definitely gave our guys fits, but it’s not as if this is the first time Gilas has played these kinds of teams.
In the 2014 FIBA Baskerball World Cup, Gilas was toe-to-toe with the likes of Croatia, Argentina, and Puerto Rico. We know we have the talent and the system to compete and maybe even spring a couple of upsets, but, for whatever reason, the Gilas boys just seemed a step too slow or a tad unhinged this past week. We had trouble fighting through well-set screens or switching defenders, which directly led to a lot of open jumpers for our foes. There were far too many times our possessions seemed to go nowhere, and our players resorted (perhaps instinctively) to one-on-one action. I also felt like we gave up too many fouls. In a way, these, at least for me, reflect some chemistry issues.

Obviously, we’re not watching live on the floor in Europe, so we cannot really see how well or how badly Gilas is communicating on both ends of the court. We’re not sure about what’s being said and what’s happening in the locker rooms. We’re not sure about their health issues and level of motivation.

At this point, there really are only two things of which we are sure.

The first thing is that this is not the kind of play we hope to see when the #FIBAOQT kicks off on July 5 at the SM Mall of Asia Arena. Naturally, we want to see Gilas at its very best. We want to see them be ultra-competitive against even some of the highest-ranked teams on the planet. Definitely no blowouts.

The second thing we’re sure of, as of dinnertime Sunday, is the final 12-man roster of Gilas Pilipinas: Japeth Aguilar Andray Blatche Gabe Norwood Ryan Reyes Jayson Castro June Mar Fajardo Ranidel de Ocampo Ray Parks, Jr. Jeff Chan Terrence Romeo Marc Pingris Troy Rosario.

Is this final dozen good enough to get us to #Rio2016? Is it going to put on a better show that what they’ve showcased so far in Europe, their win over China notwithstanding?
We’ll only really find out in the OQT, of course, but it’s always fun to break things down and project the kind of run this team is capable of.

Right off the bat, what stands out for me (and for so many others) is the absence of Calvin Abueva. The Beast has been among the PBA’s elite since he burst onto the pro scene, and he was also a key cog of Gilas’ silver medal finish in Changsha-Hunan last year. It shouldn’t be hard to see why many fans want him on the team. The reality, though, is that, at this level, Calvin can only really play the swingman position, and even then he’d be udersized, too.

Calvin isn’t a floor general, he doesn’t have a sharp-shooter’s stroke from downtown, and he sure as hell isn’t going to be classified a big man anytime soon. He plays one position, and plays it better than anyone in the PBA. Sadly, that strength also seems to have been his undoing. It’s not going to be easy picturing Gilas without Calvin. For a lot of Filipinos, he embodies our #Puso mantra and, without him on the floor, Gilas will lose a chunk of the swagger that made them so fun to watch in 2015.

The other omission, LA Tenorio, also stings, but, then again, at this point in the process, anybody getting left out will leave a bitter taste. Tenorio has been with the program pretty much since 2012, and, together with the other veterans, he has been an icon of the national team. I honestly had him making the squad because I felt having five big men was enough (I expected Marc Pingris to get cut), and I felt he was really the purest point guard in the pool (Jayson Castro and Terrence Romeo are score-first PGs). Without him, coach Tab will have to count on the versatility of guys like Gabe Norwood, Ray Parks, and Ryan Reyes to pinch-hit at the 1 spot on occasion.

And so we ride with six bigs, four wings, and two point guards. It’s a bit of an unorthodox mix, but I like it because most of the players can play multiple positions (a hallmark of coach Tab’s system dating back to when he led the New Zealand Tall Blacks to the semifinals of the 2002 FIBA World Championship), and we have a sprinkling of young talent that will really help the program’s continuity all the way to the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup in China.

I like how the coaches built a team that could be competitive in the present but, at the same time, also looked ahead to the future. I believe that’s the kind of mindset we should have for a really sustainable national basketball program, and I’m happy Gilas seems to be going in that direction.

In all, I have tempered expectations for Gilas Pilipinas in the Manila OQT. Yes, we will all have parched throats from cheering our kababayans on, but, to be quite frank, at this level, even if we’re playing at home, we won’t be favored against any of the teams we’ll face. I think France is about a 10-to-15-point favorite against us, while I’m pegging the Kiwis as 5-point faves. If we manage to make it to the second round, both the Turks and the Canucks will have very strong chances of derailing our campaign.

I can only hope Gilas stays healthy, stays motivated, and stays focused on the task at hand. With them playing in front of a passionate hometown crowd and with so much at stake, Gilas cannot be overlooked by the other squads, but for our boys to shock the world, they will have to play like they’ve never played before. – By Enzo Flojo

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