Mendoza: Stepping stones

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One with a faint heart would have resigned when being bashed left and right. But not Chot Reyes, now the most maligned coach in Philippine basketball.

Losers become orphans, indeed.

It started with Chot losing the SEA Games basketball crown. That’s a no-no. You can lose all the gold medals in that regional meet but not the basketball gilt. That’s unforgivable to a basketball-crazed country like the Philippines.

But Chot stayed put. Even as some of his most ardent admirers had started to doubt him, he vowed to fight on.

Recall that Chot went to the SEA Games with a team bereft of talent. Why? Because our superstars were all playing in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) when the event was on.

Chot would next suffer setbacks in the Fiba World Cup windows, the most telling would be the rout inflicted by New Zealand on Gilas.

Then Chot would absorb the ghastly back-breaker—a worst finish of ninth place in 13 years in the Fiba Asia Cup.

That was triggered by the absence of Chot’s stars, Dwight Ramos and Ange Kouame, both injured.

Chot readily admitted his dismal showing, citing the fact that they began practice only on July 6—just a week before the Philippines lost its first game against Lebanon.

Chot said Poy Erram, the only active PBA player on the Gilas roster, attended practice only three times.

Credit it to his fortitude that Chot didn’t back out from his sworn duty to soldier on despite tremendous odds.

Our officials also didn’t balk and, being broad-minded, they are sticking to Chot while calling on the country’s basketball stakeholders to come together.

“Let us unite to support the Gilas national team with the goal of forming a competitive squad for the Fiba World Cup next year,” said Al Panlilio, the president of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP).

Tucayo Al’s main focus would be the Fiba qualifying windows in August, November and February and the SEA Games in Cambodia on May 5 to 16—all crucial in the run-up to the World Cup that we will be co-hosting from Aug. 25 to Sept. 10 next year.

As host, the country is seeded outright.

For his part, PBA chairman Ricky Vargas said: “We need to have the full support from all basketball stakeholders. The World Cup will never happen again in Manila in our lifetime... it took 45 years to bring the World Cup back to Manila...we need to go all out... we need the best to play and be allowed to play.”

The SBP will meet on Aug. 1 to firm up matters for the World Cup, with Panlilio revealing that the Fiba will assist in securing clearance for Gilas players from foreign leagues.

For its part, the PBA will play only two conferences next year and clear its calendar starting in May up to the end of the World Cup.

Also, Tucayo Al said Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson will play for Gilas in the World Cup and will likely join Gilas in the window against Lebanon in Beirut on Aug. 25 and in Saudi Arabia at the MOA Arena on Aug. 29.

“We will also reach out to Kai Sotto (7-foot-3) for the three windows, SEA Games and the World Cup,” said Panlilio.

Don’t despair then, fellas. The early debacles are just stepping stones. The Chot bashing is misplaced. The ultimate mission, the true test, is the Worlds in 2023.

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