Gilas Pilipinas was on its way to reclaiming the gold medal in SEA Games 3×3 Men’s Basketball until they ran into Cambodia.
The caveat, though, was that Cambodia built their SEA Games Men’s 3×3 roster with three naturalized players in Darrin Dorsey, Brandon Peterson, and Sayeed Pridgett and one local in Tep Chhorath. They exerted their dominance so much so that Tep was largely relegated to a spectator role.
Unfortunately, at least for us, Cambodia has every right to field that many players because of the leeway hosting nations are given when hosting the SEA Games. Apart from adding and subtracting sports, host nations can set the rules for player eligibility and roster limits to their advantage.
That kind of freedom is prone to
abuse being maximized and it’s become more and more widespread in the Men’s 5×5 competition. To be fair, the Philippines did something similar back in the 80s, when Chip Engelland, Dennis Still, and Jeff Moore joined the Northern Cement squad and went on to win the gold medal in the SEA Games and the ABC Championship (now the FIBA Asia Cup). At that time, FIBA, the international organization governing basketball, allowed two naturalized players per competition but now only one player can be on the roster for national team events after completing residency requirements.
With the SEA Games organizing committee opting not to adhere to FIBA’s eligibility rules and roster limits for naturalized players, Gilas’ woes won’t just be limited to 3×3 basketball, but also to 5×5. It’s been reported that Dorsey, Peterson, and Pridgett will join Cambodia’s Men’s 5×5 roster and will be reinforced by a number of Cambodian-Americans.
The news also came just as Gilas Pilipinas released its final lineup for Men’s 5×5 basketball, which at a glance, is a tall lineup with a healthy mix of youth, two-way talent, and representation for the PBA and college players. One has to also wonder why Gilas didn’t push for an additional naturalized player, but then again, Gilas Pilipinas has been able to field a handful Fil-foreigners who would not have been eligible in FIBA international competitions.
Gilas could also only do so much, as the initial 28-man SEA Games pool was whittled down to 15 following injuries and some personal commitments that got in the way. Whether or not it was international, the roster also has no player from the silver-medal squad from the 2021 SEA Games.
A lot can be gleaned from this team, but what stands out is how the lineup was built on physicality and defensive versatility. For one, Jerom Lastimosa is the only player from the roster below 6 feet and given that ASEAN is a shorter region in terms of height, switchability is not much of a problem. That is, until Cambodia decided to go all out in the competition.
Scouting for the SEA Games can be difficult given the shuffling of players and the shroud of secrecy that comes with the lineups. There was a time when Gilas Pilipinas could work around that with their sheer talent, but now that the rest of Southeast Asia is catching up, Gilas needs to work smarter.
A stable system can help, as seen with the Gilas Pilipinas Women’s Team, who may have only won the silver medal in 3×3 but pulled off an upset over the all-naturalized 3×3 Women’s Team of Cambodia. On his end, Gilas Pilipinas Men’s head coach Chot Reyes has made strides with the adjustments to his coaching and coaching staff, while expanding his pool not just in number, but also in terms of sources. Those are good areas of development, but with the sophistication of the competition, Reyes may need to work on in-game adjustments, which likely will be done during the competition proper. There’s not much margin for error though, especially when that was one of the factors that did them over in the finals of the last SEA Games.
SEA Games basketball has become a war on talent and this year’s host Cambodia has already reaped the benefits of the flexible rules in place. Gilas Pilipinas obviously operates differently, but they will nonetheless have to pay close attention given its significant impact on the Philippines’ gold medal chances.