There was a brief moment of silence before Manny V. Panglinan, telecommunications tycoon and chairman emeritus of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, breathed out a huge sigh.
“When we were in China [during the World Cup], yes,” said Pangilinan, when asked if the devastating and painful basketball setbacks he has witnessed since becoming the sport’s designated godfather in the country has floated thoughts of giving up.
“Right after the Italy game,” he added, referring to the country’s first game in the World Cup, which ended in a miserable rout.
And it only got worse from there.
And for Pangilinan to make things better, he’s going to need a unified effort from all major stakeholders in the sport, especially from the ones that supply the talent.
The SBP has begun to survey the wreckage of the country’s recent World Cup stint and has opened communication channels with every possible resource in the hopes of plotting a program that will span two World Cup cycles—2023, which the country will host, and 2027.
Rebuilding the image
The retooled program has begun taking shape: There will be an overall program director, a position that is likely to fall on the lap of coach Tab Baldwin. The director will oversee the program from the top, starting with the Batang Gilas, to the cadet program resurrected every now and then for minor tournaments to the senior elite national team.
“There should be a program director on top that oversees the entire program,” Pangilinan said. “He does the planning [picks the] coach, [does the] budget, and [crafts] the training programs.
“We were better organized in 2014,” he added. “And we should be better organized in ‘23 and ‘27.”
The SBP hopes to capitalize on a bumper crop of amateurs that it can train alongside the Gilas Pilipinas pool that will compete in the 2023 World Cup. Standouts like the 7-foot-2 Kai Sotto, AJ Edu, Dave Ildefonso, Justin Baltazar, Kobe Paras, Ricci Rivero, Juan Gomez De Liaño, Thirdy Ravena, Matt Nieto, Mark Nonoy and Rhenz Abando are all in the SBP radar, along with Batang Gilas regulars like Dalph Panopio.
“Maybe the core could be a mixture of the Batang Gilas players and the veterans, the PBA players. What’s the proportion, who knows?” Pangilinan said. “The question for the college players now, are they mature enough experience-wise for 2023? Certainly for 2027 they will be, that’s why we have to [implement] a program for the team.”
But for all the efforts SBP will put into rebuilding, the image of Gilas Pilipinas, everything will hinge on unity.
The PBA has taken the first step by restructuring its calendar to accommodate international windows, but to build on the future, the SBP will also need a solid partnership with the UAAP and NCAA and hope that both collegiate leagues will look beyond self-interest.
While Baldwin, or whoever will be named program director, will be the chief architect of the national program, the SBP has already drawn up parameters as to how it will run.
Form a dedicated pool of PBA stars and amateur standouts and train them for long periods of time every year, potentially outside the country, like in Europe. The SBP has looked at the European style as a possible system to implement for the program, based on consultations with other basketball minds.
Majority of the PBA board have agreed that the European system would be the best to emulate. Former national coach Yeng Guiao said as much based on his experience in the World Cup. Chot Reyes ran the dribble-drive offense, which is predicated on actions similar to the European style—quick passing, spacing and freeing open shooters.
“If we want to [adopt the European style], the players must train in Europe. They must spend some time there,” Pangiinan said. “I’m glad AJ Edu and Kai Sotto are training in the States. But other [amateur standouts] who deserve to be in the 2027 pool should train in Europe also.”
And this is why unifying all stakeholders is of utmost importance.
“The question is the college players. If they graduate, sina Matt Nieto, sina Thirdy and Baltazar, you can get them. But if naglalaro pa yung mga bata, we have to talk to the associations, and also the schools. The schools have to release them for that kind of training. Eh hindi ganon kadali,” Panglinan said.
“The PBA has been cooperative and I’m grateful for that. And the question is, in talking with the UAAP and the NCAA, will they be as cooperative?”
It sounds like a pipe dream, but Panglinan remains hopeful. Amid the deluge of calls on social media for him to focus his time and resources on other sports, the PLDT/Smart chief has stuck to basketball—for a reason.
“It’s the sport Filipinos love the most. How can we turn our back on that?” he said, adding that he has a strong emotional connection to the sport.
Plea to stakeholders
“I grew up in a basketball family, especially my mom. She was a very keen fan of San Beda. In fact [before going to] the games, she’d go to the school first to prepare sandwiches for the team with other moms. Ganoon siya ka fanatic. And she speaks Spanish so she could converse with [PH hoop legend and former San Beda great] Caloy Loyzaga.”
Without unity, the SBP plans for a long-term coaching staff, a dedicated national pool, strengthened scouting of the international scene and developing young talents will take a major hit.
And thus, Panglinan is hoping for major stakeholders to back the national program, especially the collegiate leagues.
“That’s our plea to them,” he said.
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