DONGGUAN, China — I am still not yet over how badly our country performed in the FIBA Basketball World Cup in China.
It’s the kind of sting that stays because you know much better things could have turned out had the team been enabled to see all their plans to fruition.
And therein lies the difference between how we do basketball in the Philippines and how most of the successful national teams here in China do basketball in their own countries.
There is no doubt that we, as people, are passionate about basketball. That much is evident even to the people I’ve met here while officially covering the World Cup for FIBA.
When people learn that I’m from Manila, their eyes beam and smiles wide.
They declare how much they would love to visit the Philippines and see for themselves the “basketball court in every corner” of which they have heard so much. They want to feel our passion for the game. They want to watch a Philippine Basketball Association game or a college basketball game like the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines.
They also want to visit the Mall of Asia Arena, which hosted one of the most memorable FIBA Asia Cups back in 2013. They want to see the malls, talk to people, experience the culture, visit the beaches and just soak in the Filipino vibe.
I tell them: “You will, soon enough. We will host the next World Cup in 2023, and it will be amazing.”
I have no doubts we will be great hosts in 2023. The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) along with officials from the different local venues like the Mall of Asia Arena, Smart Araneta Coliseum and Philippine Arena have been observing China’s hosting this year, and they’ve been learning a lot.
There is no question regarding our country’s passion for the game. That is world-renowned and will be on full display in 2023.
But there are concerns about how serious and how committed we are to produce a national team that will be highly competitive and respectable at the world level.
We respect our own, of course. That’s a given. We know how much our players, coaches, and the rest of the Gilas staff have sacrificed for their ill-fated mission here in China.
I know for a fact or two of our own assistant coaches at Ateneo de Manila University in Sandy Arespacochaga and Ford Arao went to China to do advanced scouting. That’s time away from their families that perhaps exceeded their initial expectations.
And yet, maybe, especially after finishing dead last in the 32-team field, it’s still worth asking if we have done enough. Perhaps there’s still a lot that we could have done, and looking ahead, a lot we surely need to do so we can appropriately honor maximum commitment to the national team.
To say that we have been the laughingstock here in China would be accurate. I wrote in my previous column how people have used the Philippines in some good-natured ribbing, but the painful thing is there’s a hint of truth in what they’re saying.
They’re not ridiculing our people, our players, our coaches or our play-style. It’s the limitations we heave upon ourselves that is the stuff of embarrassment. When they find out that Gilas coach Yeng Guiao had just 10 days with his complete pool, they routinely shake their heads and say: “Why no respect for the World Cup? This is not just an ordinary tournament.”
A couple of nights ago, right before Argentina beat Poland in the second round, a couple of Argentine journalists actually approached me and said something surprising.
“Hey, you’re Filipino?” they asked. “You know, we like how the Philippines play. Your offense is fast. You have style, and have some shooters. Your big guy (June Mar Fajardo) has talent.”
I felt queasy at the rare compliment. I knew some flak was surely coming my way to temper it.
“But your defense is not for FIBA play and some players look like they have already give up,” they said.
“And where is that kid, (Kai) Sotto? How about another kid, (Carl) Tamayo? They are good. This is different basketball, but Philippines can be good. They can play like Argentina. Not a big team, but a fast team — fast team with heart. Maybe some Argentina coaches can do clinics in Philippines?”
If only we were so lucky, yeah? And to think basketball isn’t even Argentina’s number one sport. These journalists also lamented how football is their number one sport and yet they don’t have much success in it. It’s all over TV and media, but their system is not good. According to them, something must change in Argentine football.
Sounds familiar, yes? Something must change in Philippine basketball or the difference between our brand of play and the world’s standards will continue to widen.
And if that happens when we host the World Cup in 2023, we may end up being the laughingstock right in our own backyard.