The FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 draw has just been concluded and there is now some clarity for Gilas Pilipinas.
Group A looks relatively favorable for the Philippines as they are grouped with countries not viewed as heavy favorites and only one team ranked in the top 20 of the FIBA World Rankings (Italy at 10). One can take that all with a grain of salt though, as rankings won’t matter when Gilas hasn’t beaten any of the teams in Group A in recent memory. Moreover, Italy and the Dominican Republic might have the likes of 2022-2023 NBA Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero and Karl-Anthony Towns in their respective rosters in August.
Preparation would be the most obvious solution, but there remains some uncertainty in that aspect. Gilas Pilipinas has only begun ramping up their training partly because of the recently concluded PBA season and the low attendance in the practices, among other things. That in itself would prevent them from having any meaningful tuneup games together, which is where they could get some points to build on.
As if there weren’t already enough worries surrounding the program, it seems like the goal posts have once again moved for Gilas head coach Chot Reyes.
That Reyes has given even a sliver of attention to Gilas Pilipinas’ Asian counterparts, all of whom aren’t even in his group is a head-scratcher since his focus should be on what’s going on with Gilas and with their Group A opponents. Whatever happens to their peers is out of their control and if anything, he’s just given bulletin board material for our Asian peers.
The Olympics in itself is a great goal to have, but this learning experience rhetoric has become annoyingly repetitive. It also doesn’t inspire confidence when your leader seems to be looking at each tournament as a “learning experience” for an arbitrary end-goal.
Given Reyes’ long tenure with the program, there must be at least tangible results along the way. To be fair, there have been some indications of such, with Reyes retaining his staff from previous tournaments and making some effective tweaks to his system. On the players’ side, having the likes of Dwight Ramos, Kai Sotto, Scottie Thompson, and Jaime Malonzo in most of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 qualifying windows and naturalizing Justin Brownlee have been great building blocks to start. College players like Mason Amos, Jerom Lastimosa, and brothers Ben and Michael Phillips are welcome additions who can provide needed contributions when you least expect it.
Beyond that, though, it’s all just been talk from Reyes. How he can’t get a solid group together. How Group A is “not ideal, could be better”. It’s always about things they can’t control, and yet there are things they can control. Maximizing the pool. Stringent training camps. Proper coordination with the local leagues. Some of these are being done and Gilas might as well focus on those things with only a handful of months left before the World Cup.
What Giannis Antentokounmpo said about success and failure based on titles (or lack thereof) also applies to Gilas Pilipinas and if we put medals aside, what then is the metric?
A national team’s strength lies in its ability to come up with a sustainable program. Having a core group of players who can answer the call to represent the country in international tournaments would be big, and this would come not just from the players themselves, but also the leagues they participate in. There have been head ways made, but that it’s still mentioned means it’s still a perennial problem. The PBA has already made adjustments for the World Cup and hopefully they can work from here to make the league’s schedule more compatible with the international calendar.
The Philippines now knows who their opponents will be in the preliminary round of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023, but knowing who they will face is quite different from knowing how to beat them. Time is still on their side and they are still in control of their destiny, but they better come to grips with their reality and get to work.