If there’s one sport where the Philippines will never run out of talent, it’s basketball.
GMA News TV’s All Sports this Sunday morning (9:30 a.m.) will showcase this anew as it presents the Smart Gilas cadets’ campaign in the 24th Dubai International basketball championship last month.
Joining naturalized center Marcus Douthit in this crusade were Garvo Lanete (San Beda/NLEX), RR Garcia (FEU/NLEX), Ronald Pascual (SSC), Kevin Alas (Letran), Jake Pascual (San Beda), Greg Slaughter (Ateneo), Fil-Am recruits Justin Melton, Isaac Holstein and Matt Rosser, and PBA players KG Canaleta, Ronjay Buenafe and JR Reyes.
It’s a young, spirited and gutsy crew that shows the Philippines’ rich reservoir of basketball know-how. Exposing them to hoops beyond Philippine shores is a move in the right direction because you’ll never get any better if you keep playing against the same guys that you can easily beat on most occasions.
The opposition is formidable, what with the Middle Eastern club teams being beefed up by NBA and D-League veterans. There’s a lot of size to deal with like that of Al-Ahli Dubai, the host club that paraded a nimble seven-footer from Senegal named Cheik Samb. The local players aren’t that small either.
And it’s clear that the competition is no longer an awkward, fumbling lot like when it was just beginning to learn the game and play overseas. It’s evident that the Middle Eastern teams have spent handsomely to get European coaching. The kick-outs to three-point shooters are a staple strategy as opposed to the more NBA-like approach of dumping the ball into the post to start most offensive sets.
In this Sunday’s presentation, the young nationals roar back from a sputtering start to stop Mottahed Lebanon, 79-77. The Lebanese side is no pushover what with American imports Marc Salyers and Eric Chatfield. Key defensive stops and excellent passing plays kept the team in the thick of the battle.
Don’t be confused with the First Security Group uniforms of the PH squad. It’s still a Philippine team that simply teamed up with a corporate partner for a fundamentally club tournament.
The cadets could very well be the core of the Myanmar SEA Games team this December. The SEAG basketball tournament is never really a problem except if a Philippine squad gets too cocky or receives a raw officiating deal that messes up a tight game. There is really no need to beef up the squad with PBA players for the SEAG tourney.
The other Asian tournaments are a different matter though. Club competitions and major events like the Jones Cup will always need the size and shooting skills of the seasoned pros. In the long run, however, the cadet team provides a regular pool for the national team where talents can be drawn if the PBA schedule cannot accommodate the release of key players.
GMA Sports correspondent Chino Trinidad revealed that the nationals are trying to master the drive and draw play that capitalizes on excellent dribbling skills but with an emphasis on creating gaps for snipers from the perimeter. In a way, it has overtones of European hoops but it is really more to offset the size disadvantage we regularly face in international matches.
Practicing together regularly and competing abroad will also give the young players a feel of the system coach Chot Reyes wants without having to start from scratch.