From Jakarta to Tehran to Manila, Filipino basketball fans witnessed a travelling caravan of sorts, featuring a new-look men’s national team.
From battling the continent’s finest in the 2018 Asian Games in August and in the resumption of the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers this month, Team Pilipinas has re-introduced itself to the international basketball stage.
Two months back, such was not the scene.
Gilas Pilipinas, the flagship program of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), was once in shambles for its involvement in a forgettable fracas. The local basketball community was gripped by turmoil in July, due to the infamous Philippines-Australia “basket-brawl”. Suspensions were dealt to erring players and officials and monetary fines were levied to the country’s basketball-governing body.
It could have been the demise of a celebrated basketball campaign that dates back to 2009, with then-SBP Chairman Manny Pangilinan spearheading the drive for a sought-after Olympic berth. The program was an eye-opener for Filipinos that with the formation of a core of players mostly from the professional ranks, a national team can compete and contend in international tournaments.
However, the SBP got back on its feet in August through the 18th Asian Games. After basketball officials rescinded an earlier pull-out from the quadrennial meet, the Philippines was back at it again.
With Coach Yeng Guiao taking the reins from Chot Reyes, a hastily-formed national team flew to Jakarta to take on the region’s best teams. Despite critical losses to powerhouse teams China and South Korea, the nationals gained a measure of respect with a commendable fifth-place finish in the 14-nation joust.
More importantly, the Asian Games marked the national team debut of Jordan Clarkson, a Fil-American guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers. After years of petitioning from the National Basketball Association, Clarkson was finally allowed to don the “Pilipinas” jersey in an international competition.
Then this September, the quest for a berth in the 2019 World Cup continued with an away game against Iran and a “close-door” encounter back home against Qatar. Despite splitting their two matches, the Philippines is still on track and in good shape in taking one out of seven tickets allocated for Asia in the international basketball spectacle to be hosted by China.
Moreover, the fourth window of the World Cup qualifiers fostered a sense of unity between the country’s basketball stakeholders, especially the competing teams in the PBA. Marquee players from the San Miguel Corporation (SMC) ball clubs made their presence felt in the rosters formed by Guiao and his coaching staff. In the initial 16-man pool, SMC players occupied half of the roster spots.
Alex Cabagnot finally earned a stint in the national team, while Marcio Lassiter made his return after taking part in the first Gilas Pilipinas program. Together with Stanley Pringle, San Miguel rookie slotman Christian Standhardinger joined in the fray as one of the team’s “naturalized” players.
With two more qualifying windows left, the Philippine quintet still has a mission to fulfill, armed with a renewed hope and devoid of discord.
Here’s to the continuing progress of our national team. May we learn from the lessons of the past, as we look forward to the promise of the future.
After all, there’s a lot of basketball to be played and games to be enjoyed by us, passionate Filipino hoop fans.