By: Manuel “Boy” Mejorada
I WATCHED the first game of Gilas Pilipinas against Italy on Saturday night on YouTube. Like every other Filipino, I had hoped that the national team would fare quite well against the Italians. After the end of the first quarter, however, I stopped watching and went to sleep. The Italians displayed overwhelming power against the Filipinos and took a 29-point lead in the first quarter.
It wasn’t the kind of performance I had expected of the national team. Losing is not too bad if our team put up a valiant fight, making the rival team work hard for a victory. But the story was already clearly written by the end of the first quarter. To continue watching would be self-torture.
If it’s not yet clear to our national government, we simply have no chance of reaching competitive performance in basketball. It’s not a matter of passion. Filipinos have a burning passion for basketball. Filipinos play almost anywhere and everywhere there’s vacant space with room for two basketball posts to make up a playing court.
However, that’s not enough. For starters, our physical characteristics put us at a terrible disadvantage in the game of basketball. When you’re a 6-footer in the Philippines, people already consider you tall enough to be center of the team. Elsewhere around the world, 6-footers are barely tall enough to be point guards. The forward and center positions are dominated by players above 6’10”.
When we do get players in the vicinity of 6’10”, they are usually clumsy and have difficulty keeping up in a running game. There was a time when teams would leisurely run toward the other end of the court when a goal is made and set up their defense. That type of game belongs to the Jurassic era insofar as basketball is concerned. The pace of the game is fast and furious. To slow down will only give incentive to the rival team to bring the ball to their goal and score at will.
And it’s not just the height that matters. The heft and weight of Filipino players fall far below the standard of foreign rivals. Often, tall but thin is inferior to another shorter but heftier.
If we look at our national team, about half our players are already past their mid-30s. In other countries, we find younger, faster and stronger players emerging on the scene. In short, we could not even keep up in terms of producing fresh talent who could play in the international arena.
As a result, we often send our team to tournaments like the FIBA World Cup hoping and praying for a miracle. At the back of our minds, we already know that it’s hard to make it past the elimination rounds. We tell ourselves we just might score upsets and pull surprises. But hoping and praying does not make champions. We need to have the right ingredients to form a winning team.
So why do we keep on giving importance to basketball? Why not shift our focus to football? Football is gaining popularity in the countryside, but direly lacks government support in terms of facilities and money.
I know quite a number of people will not like this. It’s not going to change my mind. Basketball can be our national passion. However, it’s not a sport that’s going to bring glory to our national flag.