GILAS PILIPINAS | PLAYER CHEMISTRY TAKES A BACKSEAT




Working for a TV station, I am used to seeing celebrities.


Sometimes I get to interact with them - either for work or for mundane moments like cramping an elevator so they can ride it or pressing the button on the floor they are going to get off.


Yes, most of my communication with them is inside the elevator.


Normally, you tend to play it cool - because the last you want to do is to act like a nerd in front of your peers.





However, I remember this photo op from way back because it came from days (or weeks) after Gilas Pilipinas earned a shot to go to the World Cup. The rest of the country was at a high because he defeated Korea with Marcus Douthit sitting on the bench and through this day, if you want to just cry manly tears, all you need to do is watch the epic last two minutes of that game.





 


I remember writing about Japeth Aguilar's journey from being a human kangaroo to all-time great. I know Ginebra ruined a lot of superstar careers through the years. I know it's not entirely their fault. With that said, they kept stars like Kerby Raymundo, Willie Miller, Solomon Mercado, Cyrus Baguio (somewhat), Enrico Villanueva, Junthy Valenzuela, Jeff Chan, and Jared Dillinger to their selves while the other teams starved for talents.


However, Aguilar's trade to Ginebra saved his career. Sure, the four-way trade also involved San Miguel/Petron's Jay Washington going to GlobalPort - the team that had Japeth at that point. Ginebra basically traded Yousef Taha and Elmer Espiritu for Aguilar though. Japeth went from lost potential to perennial Mythical Teamer in an instant the minute he teamed up with Tim Cone.


And as a Gilas Pilipinas mainstay, you see at this point how good he turned out as compared to the first Smart-Gilas incarnation.


The current Gilas Pilipinas situation is mind-numbing because they can't see the big picture. Inasmuch as we want to blame Tab Baldwin, Chot Reyes, Al Panlilio, and the rest of the people that make up all the Philippine basketball governing bodies, they are missing out on the most important thing.


Team development.


Again, Japeth Aguilar is going to be my example here. Aguilar started like talent with no direction. Moving from Ateneo to a US NCAA Division I school with hopes to make it big in the US. Then he moved back to the country as part of Rajko Toroman's Smart-Gilas after playing for the 2009 FIBA Asia squad as well as a controversial PBA rookie year. Aguilar was then drafted by the Santa Cruz Warriors in the 2012 NBA D-League Draft but it never materialized. Worse, he was branded as a headache after his stint with Talk N Text.


And then he came to Ginebra where he flourished.


In 2013, he played as a mere backup but as his Gilas career gains steam, so is his confidence.


Now look at him - if we're going to have a team to play for wins against the other Asian squads, then Japeth needs to be part of that lineup.


Inasmuch as we need the best minds for Gilas Pilipinas, the talent pool needs to have chemistry. We were on top and stayed competitive when we had the likes of Aguilar, Jayson Castro, Ranidel De Ocampo, June Mar Fajardo, Gabe Norwood, and Marc Pingris. However, as the years went by, the team slowly introduces a couple of new guys to the mix like Ryan Reyes, Gary David, and Jared Dillinger, in came Paul Lee, Calvin Abueva, and Terrence Romeo. We had basically the right mindset when the team created the 2016 Gilas cadets led by Matthew Wright and RR Pogoy but for some reason, it became less on the players and more on the coaches.


That 2013 to 2014 run had an intact lineup. This is why I can't see Chot Reyes leading a bunch of youngsters because we all know he does it best with the PBA's best players.


Also, inasmuch as Tab Baldwin contributed a lot for Gilas Pilipinas, I can also understand why needs to share responsibility in all of this. Baldwin rubbed the coaches and the officials the wrong way when he went full "Doc Adam" on his views. Doc Adam is a former medical YouTuber who while he meant well with his views... went a bit overly preachy to the point of dissing the Filipino culture and traditions.


I think Baldwin did a similar thing. I have no proof but just like any other first-rate basketball coach coming to a third-rate basketball program, you just can't help to think that his commanding presence may be because he thinks he can do better.


In fact, he did. He gave up on the PBA players and chose his homegrown players. While it didn't help that Gilas brawled with Australia, the re-organization problem caused "new generation" players like Romeo, CJ Perez, Robert Bolick, Poy Erram, Matthew Wright, RR Pogoy, Jio Jalalon, Troy Rosario, Kiefer Ravena, and Bobby Ray Parks for that matter to miss out on a lot of Gilas-related tournaments.


I get that Baldwin's boys would benefit if they are playing outside the country but it's hard to cultivate a brotherhood if you are miles apart. I watched the FIFA-like version of Captain Tsubasa and it's easier to communicate in a field than inside a court.


When Baldwin took off and Reyes was re-inserted into the mix, it felt as if old wounds re-started. The PBA isn't as responsive to the SBP and the youngsters are more aligned with Baldwin. I also didn't get the rationale behind drafting a player that is loaned to the national squad. What makes Jordan Heading and Will Navarro's case different from the Nieto Brothers and Isaac Go?


San Miguel's inclination to lend their players isn't as voluntary as it once was. The call for big-time naturalization fell to Ange Kouame. As good as the Atenean is, one of the reasons why the 2013 Gilas team dominated is because they had a certified NBA player on their side. Say what you will about Andray Blatche but when he stepped inside the court, players are rattled. Blatche is a certified stud that while may be too crazy to be a point center (like what he did during his tenure), is also as imposing when he is playing in the shaded area.


Our win against Senegal proves my point. With Blatche up top and with June Mar in the middle, this also freed up the Gilas' snipers.


And if not Japeth, then it's June Mar. The 6-time PBA MVP is arguably the best player of his generation. Because of him, big-time stars like Castro, Abueva, Romeo, LA Tenorio, Stanley Pringle, Paul Lee, and even Christian Standhardinger for that matter missed out on the chance of becoming a PBA MVP. I know they can still do it... but given where they are playing and how many stars they are playing with, only a guy like The Kraken can defy those odds. Against Senegal, Chot Reyes finally deployed the combo. It's a case of being too little and too late but nonetheless, after a bunch of "educational" heartbreakers, Gilas finally got a win on the biggest basketball stage in the world.


Again, then came the brawl with Australia.


Jordan Clarkson is the naturalized player we are hoping for. However, now the team needs size. This means as much as Geo Chiu stepped up in the FIBA Asia Cup, let's just be realistic. He can't play against Hamed Haddadi so that means they need to look for a player in the caliber of either Andray Blatche or June Mar Fajardo.


The point guards need to be imposing which means they need to look for a captain a la Jimmy Alapag or Jayson Castro. Kiefer Ravena showed that he's a leader but when he leaves the court, we may need another point guard that can also work as a leader. I like to think that Heading will get another shot playing for the national team but I also think that Scottie Thompson isn't as big of a liability since one of the keys of our PG spot is breaking down the opposing team's interior defense.


And at this point, "Puso" is just a catchphrase more than a maxim. I know Gabe Norwood and Kelly Williams are old but these old guys play better international than in the PBA. The team also needs iso-mode spitfires like Romeo, Perez, Pogoy, Rhenz Abando, Ray Parks, Dwight Ramos, Thirdy Ravena, and Bolick as well as Ranidel-like players like Carl Tamayo and Kevin Quiambao. Then we need a collection of physical bigs to act as foul sentries like Fajardo, Aguilar, Rosario, Erram, Chiu, Justin Baltazar, Jamie Malonzo, Greg Slaughter, and Kai Sotto.


What I am trying to say here is that instead of looking for a coach, we need to strengthen our players. Let's check out the team models of Spain, Argentina, and Iran and use the Gilas cadet program properly.


I want to see the team use the league MVPs properly. Even with the current Gilas situation, we have seen reigning MVPs like James Yap, Arwind Santos, Mark Caguioa, and currently Scottie Thompson getting a snub for untested college players.


The thing about these Filipino imports is that when they play in the PBA, either they do well or they struggle like most guys. At the moment, Javi Gomez de Llano is still looking for his groove but in some ways, so is Joshua Munzon. While Wright and Standhardinger did well in their league start, the same can't also be said with Rashawn McCarthy and even Chris Banchero. Yes, playing for financial stability is good and all but just because a player played in the other leagues, this doesn't mean that they are automatic top-tiers.


We lost to Indonesia because they brought their best players as we underachieved.


I don't care how dribble-drive the offense is or how full-court-ish their defensive intensity has become. I want to see the best players donning the country's colors.






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