Balkman: PH in tough group but don’t count team out
Renaldo Balkman’s immediate reaction upon hearing the countries that the Philippines is grouped with in this year’s Fiba World Cup might have been telling.
“Sheesh,” said the former Puerto Rico mainstay. “That’s a tough one.”
It doesn’t mean, though, that Balkman isn’t optimistic about Gilas Pilipinas’ chances in the basketball showcase scheduled this August in China.
“One thing I know about Gilas and the Filipinos is that they play pretty hard. They’ve got a lot of heart and they give that every time they enter the court,” he said.
“I know that for a fact because I’m out here playing them all the time,” Balkman added.
And he was in the last World Cup, too, when the Philippines ended a four-decade win drought in the tournament. Balkman has also suited up as an import for the San Miguel Beer franchise—where he once drew a lifetime PBA ban—and also powered the San Miguel-backed Alab Pilipinas to the Asean Basketball League crown.
And just recently, Balkman got to test the mettle of Gilas Pilipinas’ training pool when he led a Jones Cup-bound Mighty Sports Philippines in a tuneup game last Monday at Meralco Gym in Ortigas.
So he knows what he speaks of when assessing the Filipinos’ chances in the World Cup.
“You know if they play aggressive, they play with their hearts, anything can happen,” he said.
Gilas Pilipinas will be grouped with Italy, Serbia and then Angola in the World Cup group phase.
“They definitely have a chance because the beginning of a game is zero-zero,” Balkman explained. “You know how it is in a game—it goes up and down, it’s about runs—their foes might make a run, they could make a run. When the fourth quarter comes, you never know, they might win over a buzzer-beater.”
Balkman was part of the Puerto Rican crew that edged the Philippines, 77-73, in the Spain edition of the World Cup in 2014 and he still vividly remembers playing against ex-teammate June Mar Fajardo and fellow NBA talent Andray Blatche, and backcourt operator LA Tenorio.
“You can’t win ‘em all,” he said. “We beat them, but they definitely gave us a fight.”