With only a few weeks away from the World Cup tip-off, these 16 players remain in the Gilas pool. The announcement of the names to be included in the final 12 is expected sooner rather than later. FIBA Fever is officially upon us.
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, twice for some.
Any time a country qualifies for a World Cup, it’s always a prestigious thing, whether you’re a powerhouse looking to reassert your country’s claim, or you’re a surprise team looking to show that your country belongs on the world stage. It’s an entirely different thing, however, for your country to be hosting a World Cup.
A few weeks from now, the Philippines will not just be hosting any World Cup, but it would be hosting the World Cup of the most popular sport in the entire archipelago. If there’s one thing that our island nation of some 117 million people can’t get enough of, it’s the game of basketball.
There is no better proof of the Filipino’s insatiable appetite for the high-octane game than the emergence of new amateur and semi-pro basketball leagues and tournaments all over the country. And mind you, we have all types of game formats here — from your usual five-on-five full court, the fast-paced three-on-three half-court games, and even a new full-court format that sees each team field four on the floor.
When it comes to us Pinoys, it almost doesn’t matter who is playing. Whether it be at the professional or even just the barangay level, for as long as there’s a hoop and some guys and gals to put the ball through it, the Pinoy hoops fan will have at it like piranhas in a fish tank would to a piece of meat — without a second thought.
Now, back to the FIBA World Cup, which is one of, if not the highest level of basketball competition in the world. It’s not an exaggeration to say that for some, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Since the prestigious tournament started in 1950, only five countries have hosted the FIBA WC more than once and those are Argentina (1950, 1990), Brazil (1954, 1963), Spain (1986, 2014), Japan (2006, 2023) and the Philippines (1978, 2023).
And while we are co-hosting this prestigious event with Japan and Indonesia, it is important to note that we are this year’s main host as the championship rounds of the 2023 FIBA World Cup will be played here.
On playing at home
Defending home court is easier said than done, and it’s more complicated for a multitude of reasons, more so for the Philippines. The nation is not one of those powerhouse teams aiming for supremacy. Ranked 40th in the world by FIBA, the Philippines belongs to the latter category of teams that have qualified by squeaking through the competition to try and prove that we belong at the world level.
In the group stage of the FIBA World Cup, which kicks off at the Philippine Arena starting on August 25, Gilas Pilipinas be facing higher-ranked countries in World No. 10 Italy and World No 23 Dominican Republic, and we’re also slated for a match with World No. 41 Angola.
Given these ranks, the odds are already stacked against us. But, the home team is expected to advance to the next round (by winning at least two out of the three group stage games) simply because we’re playing at home.
“It’s definitely added motivation and more inspiration,” Coach Chot Reyes says when asked about playing at home. “But together with that comes the pressure of performing well in front of our home crowd.”
Speaking of performing well on our home court, of the six games played during the most recent FIBA Qualifying Tournaments, we were able to secure the win in four, in comparison to only winning two out of four when we’re playing away.
On preparations following a series of setbacks
To put it delicately, Gilas Pilipinas, most especially the seniors’ team, hasn’t exactly been the country’s favorite flavor as of late, largely due to the team underachieving in some recent international tournaments. And while we reclaimed our throne with a gold medal win at the most recent SEA Games last May, the effect of it somewhat felt flat, if you ask the ultra-passionate yet hard-to-please Gilas Pilipinas fan.
Despite these speed bumps, the Gilas program has pushed onward toward the World Cup.
“One good thing that came out of the setbacks is that the entire [Philippine] basketball community has galvanized and come together,” Coach Chot Reyes who is also the Program Director of Gilas Pilipinas shares with The GAME.
One such example of this is the support shown by the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) to make its players available for the coming Gilas World Cup campaign — something that the Gilas program did not have the luxury of in the past.
This move by the PBA ultimately started a ripple effect across all the other members of the local basketball community. “Even the UAAP and the NCAA now are open to synchronizing calendars,” Coach Chot adds.
While he is quick to point out that having the support and participation of the local basketball community for one cycle does not guarantee results, it is definitely a good place to start if we are to seriously build on to the Gilas program for the long run.
Another thing that deserves to be pointed out and inspire hope would be the recent success of the Gilas program in the youth and women’s arenas over the past couple of months.
While it’s reassuring to know that we have at least started to put the right pieces in place for the future, a lot of things are still at stake over the next few weeks.
Often under fire from the very passionate and vocal Filipino basketball fans is the coaching staff. This time around, while preparations have been relatively better leading up to the tournament, there are still some kinks here and there preventing the team from kicking it into full gear.
Having had a little over 100 days to prepare since the draw activities concluded late in April, apart from considering the talent that we have from our group, it is also a given that we have scouted and studied our opponents in the group stage.
“We do everything as a group. I don’t make any decisions on my own. Everything is with the consultation, deliberation, and arguments among [the coaching staff] and myself.”
Coach Chot also confidently shares that World Cup preparations have been made, even sharing that Gilas was joined by a European coach during their recent series of tune-up games held in Estonia and Lithuania.
“We have always opened ourselves up. When we went to Europe, we had to make sure that we had a European coach together working with us to keep abreast with everything that’s going on elsewhere in the world.”
Selecting the Final 12
One of, if not the toughest job to be done whenever putting a national team together is coming up with a list of 12 names from a pool of highly talented and capable players who each have their own thing that they bring to the table.
The coaching staff has long been firm and vocal about their approach to putting together the best team possible rather than having a collection of the best individual talents.
Coach Chot describes the best team as a group of guys that is best fit to the style of play that we want to put forth, while also being able to complement each other’s skills.
“Making the final 12 would mean everything to me,” Chris Newsome tells The GAME. “It lets me know that all my hard work is being recognized by being one of the top 12 players to represent the country in the biggest basketball tournament in the world.”
Chris, like his fellow hopefuls in the Gilas World Cup pool, has been attending practices and flying out of the country for tune-up games since the pool was announced early in June. And while there’s always that pride and prestige around being a national team player, what’s often overlooked by most is the commitment and sacrifice that it takes, as these practices and tune-up games are anything but light and can take a toll on these players’ bodies.
In fact, Scottie Thompson picked up an injury in training and is now tagged as questionable for the games. Another player that had to bow out because of injuries is Poy Erram.
On the other hand, several other players who were part of the originally announced 21-man pool like Jordan Heading, Carl Tamayo, Justin Brownlee, and Ange Kouame have been ruled out for various reasons.
“We would have loved to have some of the players from Coach Tab’s team that competed in the Olympic Qualifying tournament back in 2020 to be part of the pool,” says Coach Chot, as he further shares that there is still work to be done in terms of being able to have an ideal setting for the Gilas program to reach its full potential.
All that being said, we’re currently left with 16 names still active for consideration. And while there has been no date announced as to when the final 12 will be officially revealed, it’s safe to assume that we would know in the coming days.
Win For All
Consistent with FIBA’s vision of forming one community through basketball, the 2023 FIBA World Cup’s slogan is ‘Win For All’. As the game of basketball continues to grow in popularity worldwide, so does this message of bringing people together.
As this year’s host nation, we share that responsibility as well.
As far as the game of basketball goes, it doesn’t get any better than this. If there was ever a time for us from the Philippine basketball community to want to thank our lucky stars and the basketball gods for making this happen in our lifetime, it’s now.
And if you ask me, there’s no better way to express that thanks than by showing the world our unique love of the game and by supporting our own.
Having said all this, the message is simple: It’s time to get behind Gilas Pilipinas no matter what.
Pilipinas Live will carry the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 which will take place in the Philippines, Japan, and Indonesia from August 25 to September 10.
The 32 participating teams will play in 92 games played for 17 days of nonstop action. It is available through the App Store or Google Play at an introductory price of P99 per month.
You may also visit their website to learn more.
Text JAMES LEONARD CRUZ
Cover Images CIGNAL, SMART, and SAMAHANG BASKETBOL NG PILIPINAS
Cover Layout KARLOTA TUAZON
Special Thanks PUBLICITYASIA and COACH CHOT REYES