Learning From the Latest Gilas Campaign

So what did we learn from the Gilas debacle in the recently-concluded Olympic Basketball Qualifying Tournament?

Let me go straight to the point here. After losing to the French Les Blues 93-84, and the New Zealand Tall Blacks 89-80, what was clearly evident was our team’s lack of size at the global level of competitive basketball. Our talent and cage IQ may be tops at the SEA games level of play; we may still be able to compete with the top teams at the Asian regional level; but at the global environment, the height and heft factor just cannot be denied. You may dream all you want, you may conjure basketball sorcery and magic, you may wish upon your favorite cage star, but the fact remains that in basketball, height truly is might. No amount of arguing about talent, about court savvy, about ‘puso’, or about the Splash Brothers’ incredible use of the 3-ball is going to change that.

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The height disadvantage was simply too much. (photo courtesy of getty images)

And the sad thing about it is that you can’t teach height. You can teach basic basketball skills; you can train hard to develop speed, stamina and strength; but you can’t teach your bones to grow a foot or so taller.

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Castro slices through the land of giants. (courtesy of ooyuz.com)

But hold on now, I am not saying that we should give up on basketball all together, hear? I’m not ready to go to that extreme yet. (Though to tell the truth, I believe we Filipinos would be better off competing in football or other sport where height would not be such an unfair disadvantage.) Rather, I am advocating that we change our tact a bit if we are to go even farther in our quest for global cage respectability.

My proposition? Since we cannot teach our players to be tall, let us therefore teach our tall players to play small. What this means is that we should get our more versatile players to slide down to a lower position. We need to get some of our centers to slide down to the power forward position, our power forwards to play small forward, and our small forwards to go down to the off-guard position, and so on. There is one reality we can’t sweep under the rug. As we go to higher levels of competition, the opposition just gets so much taller. And our players must then learn to adjust, for it’s a giants’ world they choose to compete in.

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Flashes of brilliance, but no game-long consistency. (courtesy of tv5.com)

For easier understanding of this slide-down process, let’s put a face to each of these positions. June Mar Fajardo, the country’s premiere center today, demonstrated that he could play power forward at the global stage. With the higher level of play, his ability to play a lower position proved just right. And he performed credibly at the 4-slot.

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Fajardo can excel at the 4-spot at higher levels of play. (courtesy of inquirer,net)

On the other hand, his best buddy, Marc Pingris, one of the country’s best power forwards, was clearly undersized at that position, being a mere 6’5″. At the global stage, his size would have been best-suited for the small forward position. But then, his skill set and mindset were not yet primed for the lower position.

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Marc is the ideal power forward for the PBA. A bit challenged in the Asian regionals, he is totally undersized at the global arena. (courtesy of interaksyon.com)

At 6’6″, Ranidel de Ocampo is a top-notch power forward in the PBA. He too was undersized to play the 4-spot in the global arena. Good thing Ranidel has a mean outside shot that makes him a threat as a small forward or even as a shooting guard. Ranidel’s versatility as he faces the basket at the 3-spot is a big asset for the Gilas team at higher levels of play. Now, if only he can put in more speed, strength and lateral movement…

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Ranidel can play inside and out. His versatility is an asset to the Gilas Team. (courtesy of interaksyon.com)

Troy Rosario is showing great promise under the paint as a power forward in the PBA. Still, his fearless tip-ins against the big bad behemoths at the MOA proved pesky at best. He’d be an even bigger threat if he slides down to the small forward or 3-spot.  At 6’7″, he’d be undersized as a center or even as a power forward.

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Young and bull-strong, Troy will undoubtedly make a big name in the PBA. In the global arena, he will have to learn to switch to the small forward position. (courtesy of philstar.com)

Same holds true for the 6’9″ beanpole, Japeth Aguilar. If Japeth can hone his slashing skills, he’d be the ideal 3-guy with his wide wing span and his dunking ability.

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Japeth can be an outstanding 3-guy in the world stage. (courtesy of slamonline.com)

Gabe Norwood has great talent, and great laterals to make him the best defensive player in the team. I’d love for him to try his luck as a point guard for the world stage. This may be a big experiment with the Rain or Shine team, but if Gabe is given point guard chores in the PBA, he’d create a big mismatch at his position. He’d be like a Magic Johnson who can see right on top of his guard. And this would prepare him for the bigger battles on the world stage.

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Gabe can be a good point guard if given some exposure in the position. (courtesy of spin.ph)

At the Asian regional level, I’d give Jeff Chan a good chance at the 2 or the shooting guard spot. At the global arena however, he is simply so undersized he becomes a liability in defense. He needs to bulk up for the global wars so he doesn’t get pushed around.

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No question with Jeff’s offense, but he’ll have to bulk up for the bigger wars. (courtesy of hoops.ph)

Calvin Abueva, at 6’2″, plays the power forward and small forward position in the PBA. His toughness and strength, despite the size, would be ideal for the 2-guard, but he’ll have to hone his outside shot as well.

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Calvin’s ideal for the 2-3 spot in the global duels. (courtesy of spin.ph)

Heck, for the global wars, I’d play Beau Belga at the 3 or even the 2-spot. Beau may be big and burly at 6’5″, but he can run and he has a decent outside shot. He’d be a Charles-Barkley type banger that could give the opponents some problems.

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Big, bad Beau can transform into a 2/3 guy for the bigger wars. (courtesy of interaksyon.com)

We have players who have the versatility to be able to adjust to new positions. We need this for the global cage wars. Crucial in the scheme of things then are our present crop of PBA coaches. If they are willing to give our key players valuable playing time in their ‘slide-down’ positions, then this will augur well for the next Gilas. Our coaches will have to be adventurous and take chances with positional changes.

This holds true for our college coaches as well. Coaches should resist the conventional tact of getting the tallest players to play center. Instead, coaches should be audacious and encourage their players – early in their basketball careers – to play the smaller positions instead.

Decades ago, a promising tall kid was picked to join a prestigious university in the US. Within weeks, he was gone. He claimed that his coach wanted him to play the center or power forward slots. He desisted, and instead joined Michigan State, where his coach allowed him to play point guard. He eventually became the star of the team, capping his college career by winning the crown in the most-watched NCAA Finals ever. Imagine our collective loss if Magic Johnson had allowed himself to cowed into accepting the 4 or 5 slot. Magic revolutionized the game by being the prototype point guard of the future then. Magic’s accomplishments and his legacy in the NBA speak eloquently of the wisdom of sliding down as we go to higher levels of competition.

(More pics courtesy of philstar.com, fiba.com,hoopshabit.com, abs_cbn.com, rappler.com, cnnphilippines.com, sportsinquirer.net, bworldonline, slamonline)

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2 comments

  1. Disclaimer: this post is by no means made to offend or hurt anyone, but to give a good honest opinion based on my observations with logical conclusions.

    I’m a lover of sports and I’ve played competitive Basketball and Football, which I still continue to play today.

    This is something that bewilders me in the Philippines because Basketball is traditionally for very tall people and it’s clearly evident that the Filipino population is pretty short compared to the likes of the USA, Holland and Russia etc. I’ve not included my home nation, UK because we are also small.

    If the Philippines gave as much attention to football/soccer as they do to Basketball then we could see the Philippines actually competing at the global level in the FIFA World Cup, making through the qualifying stages – the talent for football in the country is phenomenal equally to Basketball and other sports, even singing and dancing.

    From what I’ve discovered is that the Philippines has the smallest team in the world so correct me if I’m wrong but the average height in the Philippine national basketball team actually fits football/soccer to the very inch!! The skills and technique of the Filipino Basketball players is awesome but as you said, you can’t teach bones to grow!

    Here is a link showing that the Philippines is in second spot to being the shortest in South East Asia http://globalnation.inquirer.net/102688/filipinos-second-shortest-in-southeast-asia, which proves that Filipinos actually suit football more so than Basketball. (Please don’t be offended; it’s just a logical conclusion)…

    Now here is an interesting article on the average height of football players from the world’s most popular league – the “English Premier League” http://talksport.com/football/premier-league-sides-ranked-average-height-shortest-tallest-150826164225?p=19, also proving, by using the above link as your measurable, that Filipinos fit soccer.

    So, why doesn’t the Philippines invest in a sport that could see them being strong contenders in the global arena, without having a height issue?!

    USA is ploughing in the funds, so to is India; China is just ridiculous with the amount of money they’re investing. From my observations and from what people have said, is that football is becoming more and more popular in the Philippines; to the building of new artificial turfs, to the Azkals winning tough games, even so with the Azkals climbing the FIFA rankings and with more and more children from the grassroots choosing soccer over Basketball – so lets follow the Americans, lets invest especially at the grassroots level, lets get the Philippines on the FIFA WORLD CUP map bringing more national pride to the Pinoys just like our Hero Manny P!!! Lets make 1000s more Manny P’s, for country, for you and for GOD!

    God Bless Philippines!

    Great Article, Charly, God Bless you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not offensive at all, Chris. It’s factual, it’s insightful, it’s the wise move actually. It’s really impressive. Inspired me to perhaps do some work along this line. Yeah, you got me thinking right there, man. Thanks much. Perhaps we can do some joint projects between our two countries in the future.

      Like

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