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Hard lessons from defeats

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Manila Diary by JULIET SIMBRE


Yet again, it’s an eye-opener for the Philippine national men’s basketball team.

Gilas Pilipinas, carrying the country’s colors and the moniker of a years-long Philippine basketball program, failed again in its bid to land a place in next month’s Rio Olympics.

In its must-win group phase matches in the recently concluded FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) here in Manila, the Philippines suffered back-to-back losses to officially bow out of the make-or-break tournament before its hometown fans.

After losing to France, the Philippines had badly needed a victory to stay in the hunt for a wildcard berth into the Rio Olympics, but it fell flat against New Zealand to miss the semifinals and kiss the country’s Olympic dreams goodbye.

Those defeats were the Philippines’ newest hard lessons in world-level basketball. And in many ways, they also represented the end of an era. It was the end of a two-year Gilas Pilipinas campaign to make it to the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

But Philippine coach Tab Baldwin was right when he said that there were still some positives gained from that Gilas’ failed mission.

One of the positives is getting more exposed in the same level of competition where the Filipinos get to match up with the best of the best internationally even if they end up in the loser’s bracket anew.

As the American-Kiwi mentor aptly put it, “This is the pathway and trust me, there is no other pathway.”

Plain and simple, the Gilas Pilipinas team needs more tuneup games against the world’s best teams in order to improve.

It’s an eye-opener to understand that the Philippines needs a lot more of this world-class tournament if our players expect to be successful in this level. And, yes, it needs more beating at this level to start winning at this level.

Our own best players really need hard work to rise up.

Well, no one can deny the fact that the Gilas Pilipinas program has gone a long way. From the doldrums of the early 2000s that even saw the country suspended by FIBA for two years from 2005-2007, Gilas Pilipinas has improved rapidly. It placed second in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships, qualified to the 2014 FIBA World Cup, and placed second again in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championships.

Clearly, this program has made so much progress. The way the team played basketball has also changed to cope with the demands of the international game.

And having naturalized players Marcus Douthit and Andray Blatche also helped immensely. Blatche, in particular, proved to be the kind of versatile big man that the Philippines sorely lacked in previous competitions – someone big enough to rebound against the giants of Iran and China, yet skilled enough to push the ball up the floor, and with range all the way to the three-point line.

Yet throughout the whole enterprise, Gilas never lost their uniquely Filipino style of playing the game.

Baldwin, a veteran coach who has previously handled the national teams of New Zealand, Jordan and Lebanon, knows exactly what the Gilas program needs to improve and develop. He is batting for more exposure and experience to catch up with the powerhouse teams in terms of international play.

So now Baldwin and his staff need to get back to the drawing board to figure out what they could do better moving on with the national basketball program, and to use the positives from this experience for less heartaches in future world-level tournaments.

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