GILAS Pilipinas achieved history when it claimed a slot in the 24-team 2014 Fiba World Cup in Spain.
Believe it or not, that was the easy part.
“That very evening after the  Fiba Asia championship ended, I asked [Gilas Pilipinas coach] Chot [Reyes], Ano ba ang KRA (key results area) mo sa Spain?” said Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas chief Manny V. Pangilinan in an exclusive interview with the Inquirer recently at his plush office at Meralco Building in Ortigas, Pasig.
The tycoon, who also heads telecommunications giant Smart-PLDT, did not wait for an answer. He went out and gave one.
“Sabi ko, ipasok mo lang sa [I told him, just get into the] second round. Then we are in the top 16. Kahit 16th, masaya na ako [I’ll be happy with 16th],” Pangilinan said.
Pangilinan sat with the Inquirer for a special project on the Gilas Pilipinas squad’s stint in the Fiba Asia Championship hosted by the country, where the Philippines finished with a silver medal and nailed a slot in the World Cup that will be held in Madrid next year.
Panglinan said he is hoping both the country and the team will “manage expectations” when it comes to the Spain trip but at the same time added that the SBP is going all out to build on this piece of basketball history that Gilas Pilipinas achieved.
“I told the team, ‘Look guys, on one hand, we don’t expect you to be tourists and finish 24th; you will disappoint the country. On the other hand, we don’t expect you to be No. 1,” he said.
Pangilinan expects the 2014 World Cup to be merely part of the start of the country’s journey back to respectability in the world stage. He said the SBP will leave no stone unturned in building on the gains of Gilas Pilipinas’ achievement.
“We haven’t really invested in our basketball [program] that much,” said Pangilinan. “And at the same time, other countries’ skill levels are moving up. So we’re trying to pay for the sins of the past and at the same time, catch up with the future.
“There are standards higher than ours and we should open our eyes to that and try to emulate that.”
And to emulate those standards, he said the SBP will try to host as many tournaments in the country as possible.
“First, we’ll bid for the 2015 [Fiba Asia championship] with the goal of making the Olympics in 2016,” said Pangilinan. The 2015 edition of the Asian championship is the qualifier for the Rio Olympics. “Then, if we succeed, we will look at Tokyo and we’ll try to do better than in 2016.”
The biggest hosting target? The 2019 Fiba World Cup.
“The problem is venues,” said Pangilinan, who added that World Cup hosts normally need four major venues to host the tournament. Aside from SM’s Mall of Asia Arena and Smart Araneta Coliseum, there are no other viable venues in the country.
Pangilinan is looking at Iglesia ni Cristo’s 50,000-seater arena in Bulacan and Hans Sy’s plans to build an 8,000-seater arena in Cebu to help in that department.
“I think the Ayalas might be building a coliseum,” he added.
“We’ll really try to host the 2019 World Cup,” Pangilinan said. “We have to prove to Fiba we can host it.”
For some, MVP’s dreams for Philippine basketball might seem quixotic. For him, however, it is culturally impossible to turn a blind eye to basketball.
“My faith in the Gilas program is simply rooted in the fact that it’s the sport Filipinos love,” he explained. “We’re small in size, yes, but the mere fact is that Filipinos love the sport. You can’t tell them to ‘unlove’ the sport and switch to soccer or whatever else.
“So you might as well try to be good at it.”