Congratulations to Spain for winning the recently-concluded 2019 FIBA World Cup. After being dominated by US teams in the past 2 offerings, the emergence of new powers in the World Cup is a refreshing development. Congratulations too, to China as well, for successfully producing a truly world-class event that showcased the best there is the country could offer. Two thumbs up to China for this wonderful experience.
Spain and Argentina came out as proud survivors in a grueling race to reach the Finals. From an initial group of 32 countries, the top 8 would advance to a knockout system quarterfinal round. Tourney favorites USA and Serbia would both be eliminated in the quarters, making the semis a mad scramble for the top. Spain would end up outlasting their Latino rivals 75-55 to win the crown as the world’s best. It was a wide open race, with Australia, France, Serbia, Poland – aside from perennial winner US of A – seriously contending for the crown.
The games gave us a glimpse of how the game is played all over the world. It put on display different tactics and techniques, different philosophies, even training methodologies.
Here are some general observations:
Spain, as well as other solid cage giants, used a blend of veterans and rookies in their campaign for the crown. Spanish players’ familiarity, their team philosophy and identity – all these were clearly established. There was continuity in Spain’s program, and there was a clear sense of pride in being able to represent the country.
Spain’s team this year was definitely not their strongest. Other editions of the Spanish national team were far more illustrious and had more popular stars. But sometimes, less is actually more. With only 2 to 3 stars, one doesn’t have to fight over playing times, or ball touches. Plus the team had an established hierarchy, with no one trying to upstage the other. Thus, the coach’s task of motivating players, of mixing and matching combinations, and of getting the players to buy-in on the game plan – and the entire tournament plan – was made relatively easier.
Spain came well prepared for the Finals. They made sure to take away Argentina’s much-vaunted outside sniping. They made sure to take away Luis Scola’s scoring. They showed versatility in playing beautiful floating zone defense.
Argentina reached the finals despite not having a single NBA player in its roster! Despite that, despite its lack of height, they were unfazed by the problem. They capitalized on speed and shooting accuracy to make it to the top.
The zone was clearly the defensive weapon of choice for European teams. This answered the popular notion that ‘white men can’t jump’. Spain and Argentina did not have any high-leaping black players on their team. But they were quick to provide help and could switch at the snap of a finger.
Team USA’s unfamiliarity with Euroball, complimented with non-American NBA players’ familiarity with NBA ball, worked to the disadvantage of Team USA. The results of the tournament show that Euroball – with its emphasis on the team game – is more superior to USA ball using international rules and standards.
The pick-and-roll was in every team’s offensive staple. Different variations of how to attack with or defend against the pick-and-roll were in motion. Spain’s Rubio/Gasol tag team at the pick-and-roll was a joy to watch. On the other hand, it was intriguing to know which defender the offensive teams would hit with the pick.
Here are some recommendations as well:
- The need for more preparation time. The PBA’s year-round sked is clearly the biggest problem in creating more together-time for the national team to gain better chemistry. If the PBA will insist on simply squeezing in the country’s international obligations around PBA’s 3 year-long conferences, it might as well be the core of SMB (say 7-9 players) plus some add-ons from other teams to represent the country. That way, there is better cohesion for the team.
- The need for more exposure. Euroball seems to be the better option for a size-disadvantaged Philippine side. Send the team to Europe to get used to the speed, the physicality, the size of the European side. Or to lower costs, make arrangements with Team Australia and New Zealand. Get used to their physicality and size. (Australia will be the next big power in basketball. Let us cozy up on our southern neighbors and learn from them.) The present campaign in Macau augurs well for the PBA teams entered there. This provides our players more exposure to the international game.
- Finally, the need to change mindsets. With the advent of positionless ball, players and coaches must be ready to develop new skillsets, try out new positions. Some 20 years ago, I questioned why we were focusing on teaching our kids to play center. Instead of teaching kids to play ‘big’, we should teach our tall players to play small. Today, even big men have new roles to play. Players familiar with the 2-3 spots have become hybrid players assuming all the different positions. And even beyond the individual skillsets, we need to inculcate the team play mindset among our players. Cut the dependence on isolation plays; work on movement without the ball; work on pick-and-roll offensive variations; work on defense against the pick-and-roll. And cut the superstar mentality which hinders one from going back to relearn the basics of the pick-and-roll.
That said, SBP head architect Manny Pangilinan has to be commended for his courageous effort in developing Philippine basketball. He was magnanimous in his apologies over the results of the Gilas campaign. He was man enough to take the heat from the team. His noble actions are worth emulating. Perhaps, it is time for the coaching staff and players to take his cue. Man up, be humble, be open to constructive criticism, be glad for the opportunity to learn. In the end, we will all prosper from that.
Cover photo courtesy of FIBA.com. Other photos courtesy of Youtube, Andolu agency, Forbes, Slam Magazine, Rappler, Stadium Astro, Hoops Hype, Sports Illustrated, Talk Basket, Youtube, Philstar, NBA.com and FIBA.com.