On the rise
It won’t be long before the rest of Southeast Asia really trims the basketball gap wedged between them and the Philippines. And even after a pair of easy routs by Gilas Pilipinas in the Southeast Asian Games, it is clear that the country’s regional neighbors have started to step up their hoop game.
Greg Slaughter, who has played internationally as an amateur and as a pro, can see beyond the blowouts and notice the improvement.
“Oh man, compared to 2011, these teams [have] really come a long way,” Slaughter said. “They got way more players, they got a different coach. It’s just night and day how far they’ve come from 2011 when we [last] played them.”
It may sound patronizing, but Slaughter looks at the improvement beyond the numbers on the basketball court. The Barangay Ginebra big man sees the numbers beyond the lines.
“A lot of teams are on the rise now,” the Barangay Ginebra center said. “Even some countries have their own basketball associations now—the Vietnamese have the VBA now; they’ve been doing that for three or four years. You can definitely see the competition is rising in Southeast Asia.”
For now, the separation between the Philippines and its neighbors is far more evident than the one between a defender and a well-executed step-back jumper. In the current SEA Games, Gilas Pilipinas continues to double down on that gulf with big margin of victories.
But even coach Tim Cone is wary about overemphasizing the disparity.
“We’re not gonna try to impress anybody,” Cone said after Gilas Pilipinas formalized its entry to the semifinals with a 110-69 dismantling of Vietnam on Friday night at Mall of Asia Arena. “Again, we wanna respect our opponents. We wanna go out there and play hard, but we also don’t want to embarrass anybody, so we’re gonna be cognizant of that.”
A win over Myanmar in a game being played at press time is already a forgone conclusion at this point and will officially make the Filipinos the No. 1 team in Group A. That puts the Philippines in the path of the No. 2 squad in the other bracket composed of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and also-ran Cambodia.
Despite being a cinch to cruise to the gold medal, Cone doesn’t want Gilas to let its guard down.
“We still have Indonesia with Rajko Toroman ahead of us and we have most likely Thailand and they’ve been beating up their opponents,” Cone said. “And they have a nice pressure system to their team, kinda like Alaska. They play like Alaska, well, the old Alaska with Alex Compton. So they’re very dangerous.”
Meanwhile, Slaughter hopes that the Philippines continues to improve internationally to keep ahead of its upgrading neighbors.