Disappointing might be an understatement to describe the Philippines Men’s National Basketball Team’s campaign at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup in China. 

A lot of hype and expectations were unfairly burdened on the shoulders of an ill-prepared squad that gave up an average margin of nearly 30 points per game to its opponents and were swept 0-5.

Four of Gilas Pilipinas’ losses came via blowout defeats against Italy, Serbia, Tunisia, and Iran. Their closest result came in overtime against Angola, where they fizzled in the extra period and suffered their most heartbreaking loss.

The humbling results dropped them to the very bottom of the tournament rankings at 32nd place due to having the worst points difference at -147. The next closest to the bottom is Japan at 31st (-130).

A stark contrast to five years ago, where as relative rookies, Gilas Pilipinas became the darling of the 2014 FIBA World Cup after losing four close games to highly touted Croatia, Greece, Argentina, and Puerto Rico teams by an average margin of just 5.75 points per game, before winning in overtime over African nation squad Senegal.

The Filipinos were considered an underdog team during the last quadrennial meet that was held in Spain, shocking the world as they were able to hang with a handful of the best teams, and finished the tournament 21st among 24 teams.

Now the question to be to asked is what’s next for the Philippine team?

The country will be hosting the upcoming Southeast Asian Games, where it traditionally dominates the men’s basketball event regardless of if it sends its main squad or cadet team. But winning in its sub-zone means little for a country with global aspirations.

Set to co-host the 2023 edition of the FIBA Basketball World Cup with Japan and Indonesia, the Philippines will have plenty of time to reflect and perhaps do an overhaul, as it looks to try and win back the respect of skeptics, both at home and around the globe.

However, four years is a long time, and there are equally important tournaments between now and the next World Cup. The next main target for the Philippines should be to try and finish at the podium for the upcoming 2021 FIBA Asia Cup and the 2022 Asian Games.

The Philippines took home the silver in 2013 and 2015 Asia Cup tournaments, but had missed out on the podium completely two years ago.

One can argue that the entrance of formidable Oceania teams such as Australia and New Zealand has made the feat harder, but isn’t competing with the best international teams the whole point of wanting to join the World Cup and the Olympics?

Perhaps the Philippines should take this as a challenge to once again prove that it is one of the best teams in the continent.

Yi Jianlian of China makes a shot attempt against Korean defenders at the FIBA World Cup 2019. (Photo: FIBA)
China has been arguably the best Asian team in the last two decades (Photo: FIBA)

Even before the arrival of the Oceania teams, the tournament was dominated by just two countries. This is what the list of the Asian Championships winners of the last two decades looks like: China (1999), China (2001), China (2003), China (2005), Iran (2007), Iran (2009), China (2011), Iran (2013), China (2015), Australia (2017).

China has also bagged four of the last six golds in basketball at the Asian Games, with long-time Philippine tormentors South Korea winning the other two.

The last time an Asian Games medal was brought home to the Philippines was more than 20 years ago, when it defeated Kazakhstan in a close contest to win bronze at the 1998 Asiad in Bangkok. It most recently finished fifth in Jakarta, Indonesia, and even that was its best finish in 16 years.

Shouldn’t the Philippine brass first prioritize winning at the Asian level more than qualifying, then getting exposed, at the world stage?

Winning a medal in either continent-level tournaments would go a long way in helping rehabilitate the Gilas brand after it finished as the worst among all Asian teams at the recent World Cup behind Iran, China, South Korea, Jordan, and Japan.

As far as players go, the emergence of national team rookies Jaymar ‘CJ’ Perez and Robert Bolick should give it some youthful pieces to build around.

CJ Perez of Gilas Pilipinas shows excitement during a game against Angola at the FIBA World Cup 2019. (Photo: FIBA)
CJ Perez shone bright for Gilas Pilipinas at the 2019 FIBA World Cup (Photo: FIBA)

The failure of the recently concluded campaign should not fall in any way on the personnel on the court stressed erstwhile head coach Joseller ‘Yeng’ Guiao, opting to shoulder all the blame as he resigned from his post.

It does not fully fall on naturalized center Andray Blatche neither, regardless of how he performed. Nor on any of the squad’s misfiring veterans, and in no way rightfully burdened on the coaching staff.

Gilas Pilipinas had in fact, less than two full weeks to prepare for the biggest international competition dedicated to the sport.

Inevitably, the age-old question of priority given to the formation of the national team comes up, then and again.

Perhaps the blame should really fall on the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) and its jam-packed competition calendar, which most argue, does not provide for ample time for preparations leading up to major international tournaments.

Asia’s oldest professional basketball league also has the distinction of being one without a proper, lengthy offseason.

Will anything change for the better after the deflating campaign by the once proud Philippine team? Only time will tell.

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