One good thing that came out of the Filipinos' forgettable performance in the FIBA World Cup is the cooperation forged among the country's top basketball stakeholders.
In an impressive display of solidarity, San Miguel Corporation rallied behind the national team program as it helped its corporate rival, Manny V. Pangilinan's Group of Companies, develop a solid national team.
This unity led to the appointment of Ginebra San Miguel head coach Tim Cone as assistant coach to Gilas Pilipinas mentor Chot Reyes. At the same time, six-time Philippine Basketball Association most valuable player June Mar Fajardo and CJ Perez of San Miguel Beer, and Scottie Thompson, Jamie Malonzo and Japeth Aguilar of Ginebra were recruited into the national squad.
Even Justin Brownlee, the longtime Ginebra import, was the naturalized player in the early stretch of Gilas' preparations, proving that the massive barrier that separated the two giant conglomerates had finally broken.
But the World Cup was just the start of this high-profile teamwork.
When Reyes stepped down as head coach in the aftermath of Gilas' World Cup flop, SMC president Ramon Ang came to the rescue anew and organized a meeting among PBA chairman Rickie Vargas, PBA vice chairman Bobby Rosales, PBA commissioner Willie Marcial, SMC sports director Alfrancis Chua, and SBP president Al Panlilio to plan the team that will campaign in the 19th Asian Games.
The meeting yielded a positive result as Ang instructed Chua to deploy Cone as the coach while offering all SMC players the services to play for Gilas in the Asian Games.
Cone is the perfect choice. Aside from gaining valuable World Cup experience, Cone is the last mentor to lead the Philippines to the podium at the Asian Games after guiding the Centennial Team to a bronze medal in Bangkok in 1998.
Cone is also the head coach of the most popular professional team in the country, enabling Gilas to clinch the support of the majority of basketball-crazy Filipinos in this very crucial and prestigious continental spectacle.
With Cone back in the saddle and his principal — Ang — quietly helping the federation, don't you think it's also about time to finally drop the "Gilas" moniker and replace it with something more unifying like "Team Pilipinas" or "Filipinos" or simply "Philippines?"
Well, there's nothing wrong with the name "Gilas." Although it is not a requirement, other countries are also using colorful monikers to market their respective national teams in the international arena.
Japan is known as the "Akatsuki Five," while Italy is "Gli Azzurri," Spain is "La Roja," and China is the "Dragons."
Even the youngest member of the International Basketball Federation family, South Sudan, has a moniker, calling itself the "Bright Stars" in the FIBA World Cup.
But the name "Gilas" has long been associated with the marketing efforts of the Samahang Basketball ng Pilipinas. Its original version was "Smart Gilas," popularized by Serbian head coach Rajko Toroman and his young, hungry core led by Chris Tiu, Mark Barroca, and Jayvee Casio during the federation's early years in 2009.
When Chot Reyes replaced Toroman, the SBP changed the moniker to "Gilas Pilipinas."
Still, major basketball stakeholders were reluctant to support the program, thinking that it was just part of the marketing campaign of the federation. Eventually, the SBP used the "Gilas" name in all of its programs, with the women's team being rebranded as "Gilas Women" and the youth team being called "Batang Gilas" before settling for "Gilas Youth."
But the "Gilas" name has served its purpose. With "Gilas" as their moniker, the Filipinos had some ups and downs in the international arena — from that dramatic semifinal victory over South Korea in the FIBA Asia Men's Championship that sent them to the World Cup for the first time in nearly 40 years, to the embarrassing brawl against Australia in 2018, and the winless campaign in the 2019 World Cup in China.
Now, with no less than Ang and Pangilinan taking the first few steps towards unity, the federation should follow suit and rebrand the national squad with a name that will transcend corporate interests, ethnicity, gender, political affiliations and religious beliefs.
It's time for the national men's basketball team to be known by a name that will make the basketball-crazy Filipinos proud: Pilipinas.
Simple yet powerful.