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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

6 Reasons Why Bashers Are Being Unfair to Gilas Pilipinas

Criticisms hurled towards Gilas are unfair. These men made the sacrifice for their country, leaving families behind for a long period of time, risking their careers even playing through injuries. They took the fight for flag and country where many who were called to serve declined. It is so easy for armchair analysts and wannabe coaches to hurl criticism because they do not understand the sacrifices made.

Yes, we had high hopes for them, and to some extent there were a lot of failed expectations. But consider this:

1. Had Gilas not performed the way they did in the World Cup in Spain, would we even hope for the gold medal or any medal at all? Gilas was a victim of their own success. By giving the world powers of Croatia, Argentina, and Puerto Rico some good down-the-wire games, they raised the bar of expectations that they could certainly dominate at a much lesser level in the Asian Games. Had Gilas been blown out in all the games they played in the World Cup, no one of us would probably believe they had a fighting chance in the Asiad. At the very least, Gilas gave us that hope. Sadly, this time fate was not on our side. Although the basketball gods gave us more than enough chances(Kazakhstan beat Qatar and we were cruising against Kazakhstan for a while), Karma was a bitch too. You just have to roll with the punches and learn from the fall.

2. Because of how Gilas played in Spain, they earned the respect of international basketball powers. That includes earning the respect of their Asian rivals as well. Having earned that respect did not mean the competition will just give in without a fight. Gilas had a crosshair on their backs at the Asian Games, they were the team everyone wants to beat. Team Pilipinas was the team everyone prepared for, so everyone made preparations and studied how to beat them. This was evident in the game against Qatar, a team we were suppose to dominate or so fans expected. Gilas had pressure not only from passionate Filipino basketball fans but from the competition itself. Pressure must have been mounting from within themselves as well. Despite Gilas' surprise run at the World Cup, there was definitely no psychological edge over Qatar, who has shown many times in the past that they can beat the Philippines. The Qataris who Gilas blew by in Manila 2013 were supposed to be big and slow. But come game time at the 17th Asiad, their big men showed huge improvements in quickness and shooting highlighted by Mohd Mohammed's 5 triples. BTW Mohd Mohammed and Daoud Musa were assessed technical foulds in FIBA Asia 2013 that gave the Philippines momentum to seize control of that game.

3. The close down-the-wire losses against world basketball powers in the World Cup is emotionally draining. It is a cliche in basketball that it is easier to move on from blowout losses than the ones that you were so close to winning. These nail-biting games zaps the energy out of athletes and could make them over-eager to more than make up for it with the next game, the next tournament. This edge-of-your-seat finishes only makes you put unnecessary pressure on yourself. It is like a rebound relationship that turned ugly. It's supposed to make you look good, show the world you have happily moved on, but instead highlights your misery.

4. The teams that played in the Asian Games were less fatigued compared to Gilas who never really had time to rest after FIBA Asia 2013. Right after the runner-up finish in the World Cup qualifier, there was the long PBA schedule, then shortly after, the preparations to the World Cup, the World Cup itself and a few days after, the Asian Games. Even Iran and Korea's teams to the world Cup was way more different from the ones they sent to FIBA Asia 2013. Iran had 5 new guys on the team, Half of Team Korea did not play in FIBA Asia 2013. Team Philippines just replaced 2 players in the WC team: Blatche and Lee for Douthit & Fonacier. In the Asiad, only 2 guys were not listed in the FIBA Asia 2013 roster: Lee and Dillinger who subbed for Fonacier and Castro. Too much of anything is bad enough, no matter how passionate you are with basketball, you need to take a break. If 2 years of non-stop basketball is not tiring enough, I don't know what is. We expected a lot from Gilas, but we have to understand they are not robots, they get tired too. This is why it is important to have a larger pool of talent for the National Team just so not to risk burnout for anyone contributing to the program. 

5. Fatigue is also a huge contributing factor to injuries. Even in the game against Mongolia for 7th place, Gilas had to fight for a victory harder than expected because of a shorter rotation owing to injuries. Pingris sat out and Alapag played 15 seconds in a ceremonial send-off for his last game for the national team. Also nursing injuries were Paul Lee, Junmar Fajardo, Jeff Chan, and Ranidel De Ocampo. I must admit however, that I expected to see Jay Washington and Beau Belga get some call-up for the Asian Games to rest some injured players like Ping but that's the coaches' and managements' decision to ponder.

6. Injuries, fatigue, burnout, and emotional stress is a basic reason why it was a national team pool that we needed and not just 12 guys to fill out roster spots. From time-to-time, anyone in the national team needed to take a break from all the basketball and build on the other aspects of his life. Gilas mainstays have almost given up every other thing in their life to focus on Gilas with no assurance that those things that got set aside gets taken cared of after all the sacrifice, that is if it's not even too late. This was why I was extremely critical of Greg Slaughter's withdrawal from the pool because with the reasons he gave for opting out clearly showed he did not understand this part. But that is all water under the bridge now as well as he has expressed commitment to future national team invitations. Our boys are not machines. Basketball, like other sports, is a human endeavor and our national team mainstays are not exempt from the human conditions. They will always resort to their human tendencies.

So hey, cut the Gilas boys some slack. Let not one bump in the road take away all the achievements they racked up along the way. Isn't this the first time in a long while that we got to the world stage. Didn't they chalk up a win at the world level after 40 years of waiting? Wasn't the last time Pinoy dribblers had a podium finish in the FIBA Asia Championships way back in 1985 when it was still known as the ABC Championships? Didn't Gilas win a bronze in the FIBA Asia Cup for the Philippines' first ever podium finish in that event? Didn't we move up in the FIBA World Rankings from 45th to 31st in a matter of 2 years? And as a testament to the passion of fans, Philippines also won Most Valuable Fan-Best Country Award. That wouldn't even be possible without the Gilas program in place. There's a lot of things this program has achieved that in no way can be overshadowed by a single failed campaign in the Asian Games. So let's celebrate the positives and learn our lessons no matter how hard it is to swallow. Instead of playing the blame game and finger-pointing, let's pick each other up and pat each others' backs. It has been one hell of a roller-coaster ride with all it's highs and lows the past 2 years. We have Gilas to thank not just for the drama and heartbreaks but most importantly for the hope, faith, and belief they restored in us that somehow, someday we will get there and bring home the bacon. Thank you Gilas for the great start, it's not time to pull the plug. Success will surely come when we persevere and I look forward to fluid continuity in the Gilas program and we shall get to the top in no time.(Personal note: Before FIBA Asia 2013, I have always believed that someday Philippines will be back at the world stage in basketball. I did not however believe it could happen in my lifetime. But it did).

Gilas Pilipinas Basketball
(Photo is from Pilipinas Basketbol)

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