Gilas Pilipinas, after a painful string of misses, may be inching closer to a hit on their hands. This week, basketball star Kai Sotto and Filipino American NBA player Jordan Clarkson have confirmed that they will be playing for the national team in the hopes of qualifying for the 2023 FIBA Asia Cup.
Can Gilas finally score a win? As the saying goes, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In this case, Gilas Pilipinas can only be as good as the players in its roster, as well as their man-in-charge and the committees that support them.
Enter Gilas’ current head coach, Chot Reyes. Taking over from Tab Baldwin (who resigned months earlier), Reyes isn't just anybody. He is the Philippine Basketball Association’s (PBA) Coach of the Year six times and led Gilas to a runner-up spot in the 2013 FIBA Asia championship among other achievements.
But this year and the year before, when Gilas lost their 10-year golden streak in the 31st Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, proved that not even Reyes can catch lightning in a bottle twice.
Although the national team bested India’s Young Cagers in their second game (101-59), they ultimately lost first to Lebanon’s Cedars (95-80), third to New Zealand’s Tall Backs (92-75), then fourth and perhaps most devastatingly to Japan’s The Five Reds (102-81). The latter being the third offense for Filipino basketball fans, as it barred Gilas from the quarterfinals in the FIBA 2022 Asia Cup and as it was the first time since 2010 when they lost to Japan.
“It's a learning experience for our bigs,” Reyes once said regarding the team’s defeat at the hands of Lebanon. “We’re in a transition,” the head coach later explained, believing that Gilas’ performance will improve leading-up to next year’s FIBA tournament. These are statements that led netizens to instead ask “how many more losses will it take for Reyes to throw in the coaching towel?”
However, it’s pretty easy to pin the blame solely on Reyes. After all, as Francis T.J. Ochoa wrote for Inquirer, the fact that college and high school basketball players can be barred from major competitions (and how players are rewarded so inconsistently) can hold Gilas Pilipinas back from greatness. This, in-turn, gives weight to Reyes’ sentiment that the team was not able to assemble the best roster in the lead-up to this year’s FIFA Asia Cup.
Of course, this is not to exonerate Reyes from his possible shortcomings and not to invalidate the hard work exerted by Francis Lopez, Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena, Bobby Ray Parks, Jr., Kevin Quiambao, Dwight Ramos, and Carl Tamayo among others. Also, no basketball team, no matter how popular they are, is immune to losses and setbacks. These are merely to illustrate some of the larger problems that Gilas and other concerned parties are dealing with.
The questions again now are “can Gilas end their losing streak with the aid of their two new recruits, and can the likes of Kai Sotto and Jordan Clarkson turn the tide in Gilas’ favor?” The answer: it’s a yes, but not completely.
Utah Jazz’s Clarkson has more than eight years of experience as a National Basketball Association (NBA) player, and was even the association’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2021. Meanwhile, Adelaide 36ers’ Sotto, though going undrafted in the NBA this year, had a star-studded history with Batang Gilas not too long ago and continues to win big with the former team. Both have a lot to offer and both can help propel the team towards victory once again.
However, the burden of winning should not fall on either of them only. As mentioned before, Gilas can be more effective as a team rather than as players acting individually. We can hope for the best, sure, but to reach the finish line, the team must capitalize and play on the strengths of each of their players while also learning from each other and not expect only some players to carry the whole team.
As for Reyes and by extension the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), it’s high time to take this year’s turn of events much more seriously. Indeed, there is still time for Gilas to rebound, to learn from past defeats, and to improve on otherwise obsolete internal systems (whatever they may be). But at this point, both the team and the country need something to boost their morale and trust, respectively.
Do Reyes and SBP believe that people can still hold onto the promise that it will all get better in time? If so, then the growing disillusionment of netizens should force them to reconsider.
All eyes are now on Gilas as they prepare to play against Lebanon and Saudi Arabia for the 2023 FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers this August. It goes without saying that neither star power nor hopeful promises can never be enough to elevate Gilas. It takes proper leadership and wisdom to do so, but Sotto and Clarkson being in the team can be the start of something new.
Reuben Pio Martinez is a news writer who covers stories on various communities and scientific matters. He regularly tunes in to local happenings. The views expressed are his own.
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