Quo Vadis Gilas?

Over the past week, basketball crazy FIBA co-host Philippines has been the mecca for world basketball. Hordes of foreign basketball fans eager to support their teams have trooped to our country, and along with thousands of local fans, including yours truly, have endured the hardships of hours long traffic, bewildering weather of humidity, heat and massive rainfall melding intermittently all within the day enroute to the venues, just to witness live the World Cup’s top hoopsters.

Despite what I felt were atrociously expensive tickets for the lower box sections, being an incorrigible basketball fanatic, I just felt that I could not pass up the chance to be part of the once in a lifetime World Cup experience, particularly since I would be in the company of family friends, businessman basketball-sportscaster Dominic Uy who shared his insightful off-court commentaries and who was responsible for getting us some great seats, my erstwhile golfing partner Cookie la’O who had partnered with me decades back to bag the prestigious Mango Tee Tournament championship in Alabang, and my son-in-law, noted New Balance shoe designer Gabe la’O, who flew all the way from New Hampshire to watch some top-notch games.

Never mind that they are all as La Salle Green as can be but their youthful energies in cheering their hearts out for every basket, block, steal and mad breakaway was infectious. I watched the US-Greece and Gilas-Italy games live and the experience did not disappoint. The highlights of those games in consonance with the tremendous roars of the fans will be replayed in my memory bank over and over again for a long time to come.

But, of course, like all true-blue basketball aficionados, recounting and analyzing the wows of a won game and the what-ifs of a heartbreaker and the future of Gilas is par for the course. So here goes.

Despite the four heartbreaking defeats to the Dominican Republic, Angola, Italy and South Sudan, the last game of Gilas winning against the undisputed Asian champion, China, has given us a slight glimmer of hope, again, to have a chance to make it to Paris next year. Although the win was masterfully achieved as a team effort, undoubtedly it was Jordan Clarkson who practically carried Gilas on his shoulders with his hot 3-point shooting in the third quarter.

Even China’s coach Sasha Dordevic and NBA star Li Kaier of the Minneapolis Timberwolves pointed to Clarkson as the main reason for their never-before lopsided loss to Gilas. Because of this win, Gilas is ranked 24th out of the 32 participating countries, enough to allow us to participate in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament and so the buzz over Gilas’ chances continues.

What changes are needed? As far as the team composition is concerned, unless there are injuries, I believe the current line-up is as good as it can get. All are unquestionably standouts. On the other hand, as far as the coaching leadership is concerned, Chot Reyes already declared immediately after the win over China that he is stepping down because the incessant social media abuse from his critics has been “brutal” for him and his family. Kudos to Chot for his service to the country and for making this move rightly expected of any leader who has not delivered on the goals.

The options, however, are limited. And worse, there is an extremely short timeline to make the choice because the Asian Games starts on 23 September. Tab Baldwin of course is the popular clamor, but the UAAP season begins as well this September and I don’t think he will leave the Blue Eagles coachless. Also it seems that there could be some pushback from certain SBA and PBA quarters who might not be too keen on Tab’s up front in your face style.

Tim Cone is my own bet because not only is he an equally great coach but also for continuity since he is already in the Gilas coaching staff. Regardless of the choice, however, the problem of conflicting schedules of the players with their home teams will continue to be an obstacle to building a Gilas team that needs to be properly honed with significant playing time together.

PBA and SBP will have to somehow firmly reach an understanding, otherwise Gilas fans will have to face up to the reality of more heartbreaks. Quo Vadis Gilas?

Until next week… OBF!


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