Gilas can be more than this – Part 2

Sometimes, the name of this game may as well be betrayal (even if it’s actually basketball).

Players take time off from their families, risk injury, and willingly put themselves under intense scrutiny just to play for flag and country only to get criticized heavily (and by many of the people for whom they play!) when they fall below expectations. The Gilas players may as well watch their backs after being the first team to bow out in the Manila OQT. Even now, I sometimes catch myself thinking about how we shouldn’t have lost, still mourning the team that Gilas could have been.

I am resigned to the reality that all we can hold on to is what Gilas can be, and I believe Gilas can be more than a token participant that draws in the crowds at the highest level of international basketball. I believe we can be more than just the team with the most passionate fans. I believe we can be more than a perennial bridesmaid in the Asian region.

I remember the words of coach Chot Reyes when he first helmed the national squad (then known as SMC Team Pilipinas) in 2007.

“Good is the enemy of great,” he said.

That resonates with me now more than ever.

Gilas is a good team with great fans, but I know that, someday, our team’s play on the floor can equal the greatness of the fans’ passion in the stands.

To get to that point, however, and this is an idea that has been stressed too many times but heard too little, there has to be a shift in the way basketball is done in the Philippines. It is a shift that cannot be less than seismic, especially now that the dawn of the new FIBA Competition System — a system designed to make our region, in particular, much more competitive — is upon us.

Philippine basketball is at a crossroads again, and we must decide if we are content to be just fan favorites, or if we are willing to take the steps to be a title favorites?

The main stumbling block, though, lies within our own walls.

I’m reminded of a line that’s attributed to the great Kublai Khan — “I had to become the man I wish my father was.”

Kublai Khan’s father was never Khan of Khans — never as great a ruler as he dreamt to be.

Gilas Pilipinas is, as of this moment, on the same boat — not yet as great as we dream it to be.

The first step towards moving up even further for Gilas Pilipinas? We must accept that the real battle is not Philippine basketball against the World. It is (and always was) Philippine basketball against itself.

We’ve seen it too many times — the PBA and the SBP having trouble forming the best possible national team. It’s the irony of ironies — the most passionate basketball fans in the world have never had the national team they deserve mostly because of commercial and political factors. And despite the new FIBA Competition System closing in, it is still uncertain if the PBA will willing to completely align its complicated schedule with the FIBA competition windows. This is essentially why people foresee continued problems with trying to gather the country’s best basketball players together for constant training in what should be a pretty big national pool, and this is also the main reason for the SBP’s pushing for the formation of a Cadets squad.

One disconnect I see is that, unlike many other countries around the world, the PBA, even if it is technically “under” the SBP, is NOT run by the SBP. The PBA has its own set of decision makers who are not directly accountable to the SBP, and the SBP has never really been able to impose anything on the PBA. If the SBP could impose on the PBA, then aligning with the FIBA calendar would not be a problem at all. Unfortunately, the PBA does not seem beholden to any schedule that FIBA or the SBP wants it to follow. The PBA operating pretty much on its own devices makes sense from a business standpoint, since the league is a commercial entity. It, however, creates a lot of difficulties when it comes to forming a national program that should be primed for no less than international success.

Sure, Gilas Pilipinas has had a good run these past few years, but how many continental titles (i.e. FIBA Asia Championship and FIBA Asia Cup) has the national team won since it started in 2009? None. Yes, the we have improved significantly, rising among the top 30 teams in the world, but is that the ceiling? Is that all Gilas can be and all we are willing for Gilas to be? Gilas doesn’t have to make the podium at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup, but I would love for them to win at least one of the next few continental tournaments.

When push comes to shove, there is a lot of room for further improvement, and paramount is the PBA adjusting and aligning its schedule with FIBA’s. This is the kind of unprecedented change we need (I would also love to see having no height limits for Asian imports and an annual pocket tournament like the Jones Cup or Atlas Challenge) in order for us to reach unprecedented results.

Time to stop mourning the team that could have been. Time to man up, make big changes, and turn the tables on this game called betrayal. – By Enzo Flojo

Follow this writer on Twitter: @hoopnut