A few days ago, reports came out on the change in the tournament format for 5×5 Men’s Basketball in the 2023 SEA Games to be held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Unlike in the 2021 edition, where a single round robin format and the best record determined the winner, the 2023 SEA Games will revert to the two-group format where the two best teams from each group will face off in a crossover semifinal round. The winners of each semifinal matchup will then vie for the gold medal.

For the SEA Games this year in Cambodia, the Philippines was grouped with Malaysia, Vietnam, and Myanmar in Group B, while Thailand, Singapore, Cambodia, and defending champion Indonesia were drawn into Group A. If Gilas Pilipinas tops Group B, which it very well should, they would only have to worry about either Thailand or Indonesia in the semis. Of course, a lot can happen between now and then.

SEA Games basketball can be unique in itself given how organizers can tweak the tournament format and the relaxed rules surrounding player eligibility. Naturalization has become the emerging norm in international basketball and more ASEAN teams have beefed up their rosters with foreign players who usually have spent a significant amount of time in their domestic leagues.

The rest of the region is catching up, not just talent wise, but in terms of preparation. Other teams playing in the SEA Games have already made headway with their preparations, while the Philippines just saw the conclusion of the PBA season.

The TNT Tropang Giga and interim head coach Jojo Lastimosa did their main head coach Chot Reyes a huge favor by ending the series last Friday with a 97-93 title-clinching win over the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings. SEA Games pool players from both the Tropang Giga and the Gin Kings can get a few days rest before joining the Monday practices held by Gilas.


Then again, the Monday practices seem like a token effort and may not be enough, let alone be the bare minimum. There will be quarters who will blame Reyes for bemoaning about the dismal attendances to his practices, while others will point to the PBA for not lending out players in time. There’s definitely a lot of blame to go around, but one has to give props to Reyes for making adjustments to his staff and system in recent competitions and the PBA for somewhat tweaking its schedule and lending out players, albeit at magnitudes that still aren’t enough.

But we’re honestly well past the blame game.

To be fair, while Indonesia is going all in on the SEA Games, Gilas Pilipinas will ramp up its preparations for the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup (a competition Indonesia won’t participate in yet serve as a host nation) at the conclusion of the SEA Games, with the tournament also serving as a means of preparation for a larger goal.

Even now, though, Gilas can already build winning habits. There’s three weeks to go before Day 1 of the SEA Games Men’s Basketball 5×5 competition and the opportunity to conduct frequent practices and even just an immersion for the players into the system Reyes and the Gilas Pilipinas coaching staff want to implement will be useful. Unlike Indonesia, who are currently in Australia, a training camp abroad is highly unlikely but the camp’s benefits of removing distractions and devoting activities to building familiarity and simulating situations could still be done.

Tuneup games will be another great option, as these will be helpful in executing adjustments in game-situations, something that proved to be crucial in the gold-medal match against Indonesia last year. Moreover, the commitment of the players in the pool will be on display, not just with their words, but with their actions on and off the court.

With the 2023 SEA Games right around the corner, the picture for Men’s 5×5 Basketball has become much clearer. The real work should have begun weeks ago, but it’s high time that Gilas Pilipinas makes lemonade out of the lemons that have become a constant companion to the program.