After Gilas Pilipinas' impressive showing against the Tony Parker-led French basketball team at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, we thought our boys would have less trouble dealing with their next assignment—the Tall Blacks of New Zealand. But, surprise, surprise, the Kiwis played with as much swagger and ferocity as they did during their pre-game Haka dance. As a result, the host team succumbed to New Zealand, 89-80. The opponents' combination of size, athleticism, and relentlessness on both ends of the floor forced Team Philippines to lag behind all game long and ultimately, end Gilas' 2016 Olympic bid.
We're still proud of our hardwood representatives, of course, but Gilas' fruitless campaign doesn't take away the fact that there is a whole lot of work to be done before the Philippine national basketball team ascend to higher levels. Losing to NZ exposed facets of our game that need tightening up. The best thing to do now is to learn from the lessons off this latest heartbreak to make future Gilas teams even more ready for the global stage.
1) More exposure against bigger and faster competition
The Gilas guards, at times, stayed in step with Parker but were clearly overwhelmed by the explosiveness of the Kiwi backcourt bannered by the Webster brothers, Tai and Corey. Tai, the younger of the two at 21, was unstoppable, getting to the hole at will for 25 points while outhustling everybody with 11 rebounds. His brother added 23 markers, coming off pull-up jumpers and a few finds down the lane. We thought our guys can defend them, if not one-on-one, through switches and some help defense.
It wasn't the case though, as the locals seemed shocked to see 6'4" ball handlers blowing past Jayson Castro and laying the ball up over Andray Blatche and June Mar Fajardo. There are other players out there more athletic than the Webster brothers, and if Team Pilipinas gets used to competing with such, we could match up better against the speedy and the most agile bigs of international basketball. To achieve that, the next Gilas program should send the national pool to more pocket tournaments in Europe and the Americas.
2) Better on-court communication
A basic component every ball club must have is a way to talk to each other, and the national team didn't show much of it against the Kiwis, especially on defense. The Tall Blacks must have had at least 10 easy layups, thanks to unopposed entry passes down the lane. It was the most elementary of plays, the give-and-go, that ultimately doomed the team in the end.
Yes, NZ's cutting game was sharp, but many of the uncontested baskets could have been prevented had Gilas communicated better on defense. The locals shouldn't have any problem fixing this; they simply have to keep communication lines on the floor open at all times.
3) A deadlier shooting game
For Team Pilipinas, facing elite international competition means going up against much taller, much bigger opposition. Let's face it: outside Southeast Asia, we will always be undersized in basketball. The Kiwis, although having the same average height of 6'5" as us, looked larger and longer when they stood beside their Filipino counterparts. It was perhaps the biggest reason we had a tougher time putting the ball into the hole. On multiple occasions, the towers of NZ were there to go for the block or intimidate the Gilas slashers into committing a traveling violation.
A highly effective way to compensate for our physical disadvantage and overcome larger defenders is to become outside specialists. Against the Tall Blacks, we had too much stretches of offensive droughts. It happened mostly when the interior was shut down for the nationals and all they could do was fire away from downtown. Next time, let us make them pay for cornering us into shooting threes. Pretty sure coach Tab Baldwin wouldn't mind if his team tells him, "Coach, we'll train to shoot like the Koreans."
4) Find a way to use our assets better
June Mar was cooking in the third quarter, scoring nine of his 11 points, but ended his last minutes in the penultimate period without touching the ball. Just when we saw the two-time PBA MVP starting to look like his "Kraken" self against the best of the NZ frontcourt, his team's offense started veering away from him, which was frustrating. In Gilas' future tilts, it will be great for the squad to give the green light to a local player other than Blatche, optimally utilized whenever the moment calls for it.
5) Take after this Gilas Pilipinas
The next Gilas pool will be composed of the country's top amateurs, reportedly to be headed by former collegiate stalwarts Kiefer Ravena and Mac Belo. No PBA player will likely be involved in the next program because of schedule conflicts with the reorganized FIBA calendar. If there's anything the upcoming national teams could learn from their predecessors, it would be the living and breathing the essence of the word that the likes of Jimmy Alapag, Larry Fonacier, Gary David, Paul Lee, LA Tenorio, Calvin Abueva, and the squad that we saw this FIBA OQT immortalized—PUSO!
Photos via FIBA.com