MVP not giving up on Olympic basketball dream
BEIJING—One failed mission hasn’t diminished the passion of basketball’s Most Valuable Patron in wanting to see the national team play in the Olympics someday.
In fact, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Manny V. Pangilinan takes inspiration from Smart Gilas Pilipinas’ best finish in over two decades in the Asian championship.
The national squad of head coach Rajko Toroman failed to secure a slot in the 2012 London Olympics, finishing fourth in the recent 26th Fiba Asia Championship after losing the bronze medal tiff to South Korea on Sunday in Wuhan, China.
“It’s a big improvement in recent years,” said Pangilinan, popularly known as MVP. “We found out that the program is working. We’re now fourth in Asia.”
By reaching the semifinals, the Philippines boosted its Fiba world ranking and drew the respect of its rivals, including London-bound and new Asian champion China.
China coach Bob Donewald said in an interview, after demolishing Lebanon in the quarterfinals, that he would rather have Jordan as opponent in the finals than take his chances with the Philippines.
The Chinese went on to capture the gold, but not after pulling off a hair-raising 70-69 escape act against the Jordanians.
The telecommunications and utilities magnate said Smart Gilas had been blessed with the luck of the draw at the start.
“In a way, God favored us because we got into a good group. We also got lucky when Marcio (Lassiter) and Chris (Lutz) were allowed to play and we won all our games in the second round,” said Pangilinan.
The Nationals, a bunch of talented amateurs boosted by a naturalized center in Marcus Douthit and four seasoned players from the PBA, won handily against Chinese Taipei in the quarterfinals but hit a roadblock in Jordan in the semifinals.
The big boss at PLDT-Smart, Meralco and Maynilad said there are some weak spots in Smart Gilas that should be addressed when the SBP continues the program geared toward the 2013 Asian championship.
“I’m not a coach or a player but there are certain weaknesses that I saw in this tournament that we have to seriously look into,” said Pangilinan. “If you ask me, there should be changes with the players. It’s not a criticism on the players that we have now. They tried their best and I should thank them, especially those on the program for three years and those from the PBA who made the sacrifice.”
Team captain Chris Tiu, JV Casio, Mark Barroca, Mac Baracael, Japeth Aguilar, Dylan Ababou and Jason Ballesteros have been with Smart Gilas since the Olympic drive began late 2008.
“I think our point guards are small,” said Pangilinan. “Not to say that our point guards are not good, but I believe that we need bigger point guards.”
Jordan has the 6-foot-5 Osama Daghles while 6-3 Liu Wei and 6-7 Sun Yue, a former Los Angeles Laker, run the backcourt for China.
Pangilinan said the SBP would rebuild the team around Douthit and add a couple of big guys in 7-footer Greg Slaughter and 6-9 Junmar Fajardo from Cebu.
Another area up for review is the coaching staff headed by Toroman, whose contract ends this weekend.
“We have to look at what’s good for the team in preparation for 2013,” said the tycoon. “No matter what people say, I’m still determined to support the program and see one day the Philippines in the Olympics, however long it takes, be it in 2016, 2020 or even beyond.”
The Philippines last vied in the Olympics in Munich 1972 with a team bannered by Robert Jaworski and William Adornado.