The Philippines and South Korea have been embroiled in a rivalry that's arguably one of the most compelling storylines in Asian basketball history. It has been shaped by our early beginnings and triumphs, succeeding matchups, gut-wrenching finishes, and a shared misery against China, the common enemy that has kept us from quenching our thirst for gold.
To be clear, theirs is a rivalry that's not reminiscent of the '80s Lakers and Celtics, two legendary franchises whose cinematic hatred of one another, combined with the star power of icons Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, helped to propel an otherwise run-of-the-mill NBA power struggle into an epic war for pride and heritage, punctuated by opposing styles of play. Their half-decade-long tug of war ultimately imprinted itself in the history books as a marvelous display of competitive spirit that remains intact up to today.
Both countries are not up to that level yet, but that doesn't mean they're incapable of becoming the signature teams of the region like they once were in the '60s and early '70s. That distinction belongs to China and Iran now, by the way. But this powerful dichotomy will likely be disrupted big-time by Australia, or, perhaps, even fellow FIBA Asia newcomer New Zealand—two nations which, up until this point, have enjoyed their searing rivalry isolated in another continent.
After what can only be described as inspired play by the Philippines, we are once again on a collision course with South Korea in tonight's much-anticipated quarterfinals match at the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup. Here's a match up bitter enough to produce another defining moment in basketball.
Except for Jayson Castro, Japeth Aguilar, and Gabe Norwood, Gilas Pilipinas hardly features any standouts from the team that beat South Korea in the semis and finished second at the 2013 FIBA Asia Cup. Meanwhile, Korea is composed mostly of young and developing players.
Yet it is important to note that each country’s basketball philosophy hasn’t changed significantly. South Korea never needed volume scorers since their offense is predicated on discipline, range, efficiency, and balanced scoring. The Philippines, on the other hand, will still rely on strong drives, physical defense, and the occasional isolation barnburner. Make no mistake, though: both rosters are more finely tuned than ever to reflect these contrasting playing styles.
South Korea has fielded the same team that competed at the 2017 Jones Cup held earlier this year. In what was considered a marquee matchup, Korea toppled a half-formed Philippine team comprised of Gilas cadets, displaying the same ruthless efficiency and shooting form we have come to expect.
Korea shot 56 percent from 2-pt range (behind only Lithuania) and a tournament-leading 47 percent from beyond the arc. Despite not fielding an import, Korea managed to place third in the tournament, just ahead of the Philippines, which showed lack of experience despite being flanked by import Michael Myers and Christian Standhardinger.
One can only hope our current FIBA Asia lineup is much better equipped to go up against this Korean team, which has already surpassed expectations by upsetting New Zealand, 76-75, during the group phase. The Philippines will continue its struggle against this Korea lineup, which has an average height of 6’5”, and is led by standout forward Sekeun Oh and guard Sun-Hyung Kim.
We'll find out later if a stronger, more experienced retinue composed of Castro, Terrence Romeo, Matthew Wright, Raymond Almazan, Standhardinger, and the surprising Carl Bryan Cruz can provide enough defense and physicality to throw off the otherwise machine-like efficiency of South Korea, and bring us a step closer to the elusive gold.