Every international appearance Gilas Pilipinas makes is another opportunity for a reboot.
The SEA Games debacle in Vietnam remains fresh in the hearts and minds of Filipinos and while their only inputs are their passion and support, they have called for heads after the Philippines finished with a silver medal for the first time in the last 14 editions of the competition.
Enter Nenad Vučinić, who feels like the hundreth Gilas head coach (Actually there have more or less been nine Gilas head coaches since 2012 but who’s keeping count anyway?). Vučinić joined the staff of the Philippines’ Men’s National Basketball Team back in February and was tapped barely a month ago by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) to coach during the third window of the FIBA Basketball World Cup Asian Qualifiers.
The Serbian and New Zealand national’s influence was evident in Gilas’ loss and win over his former team New Zealand and an upstart India squad, respectively, over the past week. The Philippines pushed the envelope whenever they could, relying on opportunities that arose from the pacing and spacing. Passing forms a large part of Vučinić’s offensive philosophy, with pressure defense igniting offensive possessions that could catch opposing defenses off guard.
These all sound much better than dribble-drive for days, however, execution was another matter altogether.
The Philippines also attempted 27 3-pointers across both games, but only made 18.5 percent (10) of those 54 attempts. As a result, brutal may be putting Gilas’ 106-60 loss to the Tall Blacks too nicely.
New Zealand made the Philippines misfire while also taking advantage of their lack of frontcourt depth. Gilas was clearly outmatched by a team that was better, stronger, wiser, and had more time with one another. So the beatdown was basically about the better team winning.
India was obviously a step down competition-wise, but it still revealed that the Philippines was slowly (but surely) getting accustomed to what Vučinić wanted to run. The passing produced much more results (22 assists versus 11 against New Zealand) and the defense showed some signs of improvement (24 turnovers for India versus 15 for Gilas).
The outcomes of both games didn’t really matter in so far as to advancing to the second round of the FIBA Basketball World Cup Qualifiers not only because the Philippines is one of the three hosts (along with 2021 SEA Games Gold Medallist Indonesia and Japan) for next year’s FIBA World Cup, but also because South Korea was disqualified due to COVID-19 concerns, allowing New Zealand, the Philippines, and India to move on to the next round.
Rather than game results, the bigger takeaway here would be the lessons learned towards earning better results in the long run.
Philippine basketball players are known for being individually creative and while basketball remains first and foremost a team sport, a healthy balance of both individual flair and achieving cohesion form the recipe for success for Gilas. Finding that perfect combination is much easier said than done, more so when the parts are moving just as the players are getting familiar with what they are running.
Fresh faces on the roster and coaching staff are not uncommon in the national team setting, but the mixed results have been as frequent as the flurry of changes the program has undergone. Certainly the stylistic differences have contributed to the lack of consistency, but with the FIBA World Cup a little over a year away, it may be time to decide on a permanent coach. Gilas can’t afford to follow the Team USA method of assembling star players and holding a training camp more or less a month before major competitions. While talent isn’t necessarily an issue with the Philippines, getting familiar with the system and with one another is something that Gilas needs more time with than their American counterparts.
Putting a seal of finality on the head coach for the 2023 FIBA World Cup would also fall in line with the goal of giving exposure and making preparations for the players part of the long-term plans of the SBP. After all, the Philippines, especially as a basketball-crazy nation, deserves better.
It’s hard to really grasp the gains and the learnings from the games coached by Nenad Vučinić and played by the Philippines’ Men’s National Basketball Team over the past week especially when you consider that the Gilas Pilipinas could very well go through another overhaul after this month’s FIBA Asia Cup. The results were within expectations and the kids (yes, that includes Kiefer Ravena) seem to be alright, but it may be time to drop the adjective “new” when referring to Gilas Pilipinas’ head coach.