An excuse letter for a sickly basketball program

Gilas Pilipinas

Remember the time when one of your parents, usually your mother, had to write an excuse letter for your absence at school? The opening lines often read: “To whom it may concern. Please excuse my son/daughter, for not coming to school yesterday due to (cause of absence)”.

In some ways, that’s what I felt after reading the statement of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) regarding the pull-out of the Philippine team from the Asian Games. While the excuse itself for the withdrawal is vague, there’s no question that the SBP basketball program is undergoing a sickness. The cure of which may be right around the corner but we fail to acknowledge or accept it.

While I could pin the blame on the SBP or even the PBA about this issue, it would be better to dissect the SBP letter and raise questions from there. That way, we can tag our absence in the Asian Games as either valid or not.

“The SBP remains committed to the continuous development of Philippine basketball, and to attaining the best possible results for our teams in the global stage.”

It’s pretty clear that the SBP’s goal is to perform well in global tournaments such as the FIBA World Cup, the summer Olympics, and the FIBA Asian Championship. If that’s the case, the 2018 Asian Games would be a perfect opportunity to send the Gilas cadets as our representatives.

Yes, they may not be the best team that we can send and end up losing more games. But, it is a step towards the continuous development of Philippine basketball that the SBP envisions. The Asian Games would be a perfect platform to build more team cohesion and gauge their performance to continually chart the growth of the players and the squad. Don’t tell me they are not ready. Otherwise, when will they be?

Even if they fail, at least they had more international exposure at a young age. Plus, embracing teammate’s tendencies are easier when they play together in more tournaments against teams that they will face down the road. If there’s still a chance to reverse this withdrawal, let the 2018 Asiad be the Gilas cadets’ on-the-job training. It’s better to have a team than none.

“We thank Rain or Shine, especially its owners Terry Que and Raymond Yu, as well as NLEX Coach Yeng Guiao and Rain or Shine Coach Caloy Garcia, for expressing their willingness to represent our nation in the upcoming Asian Games.”

The withdrawal came as a shock to the majority of the PBA Board of Governors who called a press conference before Game One of the Commissioner’s Cup Finals. Even the timeline of decisions begets more questions than answers. According to the PBA Board of Governors, national team head coach Chot Reyes mentioned that they will not participate in the Asian Games. But months after and with the sporting event just around the corner, the decision changed.

Pressed for time, the board decided that the core group of the TNT Katropa will be sent to the quadrennial Asiad because they share the same basketball philosophy as the national team. Then, the brawl during the game between Gilas and the Australian Boomers at the Philippine Arena happened.

For this, I have to commend the SBP. Since the suspensions for the players involved do not cover the Asian Games, the entire Gilas squad can play. But they did not allow it to avoid a backlash against those who don’t condone the player’s actions. With TNT declining to play, the PBA board reconvened and decided to send Rain or Shine, the top team after the 2018 Commissioner’s Cup eliminations, to play in Indonesia.

Allowing the Elasto Painters to play in the Asian Games should be a no-brainer for the SBP. Here is a team that is fully committed to represent the country with players that are no pushovers either. But maybe, some officials within the country’s governing body for the sport feel threatened. They might be feeling the heat already when Tab Baldwin led Ateneo de Manila to an impressive showing in the 40th William Jones Cup especially against the national teams of Chinese Taipei and South Korea.

If Guiao and the Rain or Shine squad can pull off a miracle run, the call for their ouster will intensify. To douse the fire, they would rather not play because the team might not be as competitive and there are no available naturalized players to reinforce them. Before pulling out, can we at least define realistic expectations before we can gauge if our team is “competitive”?

READ: A timeline of events before SBP pulled out of Asian Games

“However, to allow our National Team and our organization to regroup, prepare for the process of appealing the FIBA Disciplinary Panel’s recent Decision, and aim for sustainable success for future tournaments – including the upcoming FIBA World Cup Qualifiers and the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup – we have reached the conclusion that, with the foregoing considered and after consulting with the basketball community, the time and chance to participate in the 2018 Asian Games would not be optimal.”

First things first, I wonder which basketball community did they consult? Because despite the melee in Bocaue, the nation will support the team that will be sent in the Asian Games. If preparation time is a concern, that’s why an entire team will be sent so that cohesiveness won’t be a problem.

Likewise, it wouldn’t have ended this way if the PBA had the foresight to schedule the season around the qualifiers and the Asian Games. They could have plotted the conferences to avoid conflict with international tournaments in order to have ample time for preparation and rest. Instead, they went on with their usual timeline and make it look like they are the one sacrificing. For the sake of national pride, competitions like the Asiad must be a priority. It is also a good ploy to show that the league is in sync with the SBP.

Also, there’s nothing wrong with regrouping as long as it tries to correct the mistakes of the past. But by regrouping to appeal the decision of the FIBA Disciplinary Panel means that the SBP has not gotten over the sanctions. The odds to have the suspensions reduced are slim based on the evidence FIBA has in hand. Alleged racial slurs that ignited the conflict can be scrutinized but that would be like finding a needle in a haystack because there is no recorded proof.

If the SBP is serious about regrouping, then it would be better to create a roster from teams that have been eliminated from the Commissioner’s Cup together with June Mar Fajardo, Baser Amer, and Gabe Norwood. They will have time to train and build chemistry before playing in the third window of World Cup qualifiers. Global Port has already offered Stanley Pringle while Blackwater has agreed to lend JP Erram. That would be a decent nucleus. They can’t wait for FIBA to reduce sanctions because the roster won’t be complete for the entire window anyway. Thus, it’s time move forward and explore other options.

READ: Gilas sanctions do not carry over Asian Games, says Alfrancis Chua

“We apologize to the Asian Games organizers, to the fans of the Philippine team, and to the Asian basketball community for this withdrawal. The SBP resolves to improve its systems, and to prepare programs that will better ensure respectable performances of our teams internationally, of which our countrymen can be truly proud.”

The biggest apology goes to the Asian Games organizers because they have to adjust the tournament format. But the best way to apologize to fans is for the SBP to improve its system and prepare programs that will translate to long-term success. The revamp starts by making the style of play fit international basketball.

During the PBA Board of Governors’ presser about the Asian Games pull-out, San Miguel Corporation Sports Director and Barangay Ginebra governor Alfrancis Chua mentioned that TNT was chosen because they play the same dribble drive offense that Gilas does. But can this system be sustained in international basketball especially if our players are giving up a few inches to their opponents?

The way Ateneo played in the Jones Cup is worth emulating. Their fluid offense consists of screens and backdoor cuts that throws off the defense while their balanced scoring keeps opposing coaches guessing. It also plays to our brand of basketball because we often have the speed advantage. If this philosophy is embraced by Gilas, Batang Gilas, and Perlas Pilipinas, then respectable performances are attainable.

In these trying times, let’s give the SBP a benefit of the doubt. The recent turn of events might have left them in disarray but there is much reason to hope for the better. This excuse letter for the absence in the Asian Games is accepted. But if the same ailments or negative symptoms persist after, an executive check-up for our basketball program is due. Or maybe, all we need are new basketball doctors who can provide the cure.
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