Sunday, July 15, 2007

Will Team Pilipinas make it to Beijing?

I have been thinking of setting up a blog for my favorite sports, basketball, but for the meantime that I haven't done it yet, let me blog something about it here.

If you can't take a discussion regarding basketball, my apologies and my goodbyes. On the first place, this is, by all indications, for all basketball fans out there.

So, let's begin.

Okay, okay, now that we won the 4-nation Manila Invitational championship at the expense of Lebanon, every Filipino basketball fan in the country, myself included, is now basking in high hopes and is, with all possible fingers that can be crossed, crossed, looking forward to a similar finish when we compete for an Olympic berth in the FIBA-Asia Men’s Championship in Tokushima, Japan less than two weeks from now. Or at least, a second place finish behind China and China only. I'll expound on this later.

But for the meantime, let's remember that the last time a Philippine basketball team made it to the Olympic games was in, gasp, 1972! The best finishes we had were a bronze medal in 1954 during the FIBA World Championship for men and a fifth-place finish in the 1936, yes, 1936 Summer Olympics.

Of course, we all know that the dynamics of the game has changed hugely for the past, what, 10, 20 years. And our Asian neighbors have already caught up with us in terms of skills and China, with its players seemingly becoming taller and taller each year, has become a powerhouse team. And for a game that relies heavily on height and size to succeed, or at least, to be competitive, this has been one great challenge for us Pinoys who are naturally short and small (specifically by international basketball standards).

So, that's why we have had a really, really tough time qualifying for the Olympics. To add insult to injury, FIBA allots one slot only for Asia, and China, being a perennial powerhouse, has been reigning over the region and thus, has been representing Asia in the Olympics.

That is why a lot of people are already saying that basketball is, matter-of-fact, not for us, like Tribune's Rudy Romero who has all the reasons to doubt about our chances in the game in the international arena, and instead pushes for football as a sports where we can be a world great; and PDI's Manolo Inigo who thinks, contrary to the beliefs of our current national coaches and sports officials, that the dark days of Philippine Basketball are not yet over, and we are just "only good in the lower-category tournaments such as the Seaba Club Champions Cup and the Southeast Asian Games", prompting him to ask "quo vadis Philippine basketball"? Ouch!

But halt there, because there are still people who believe that we have what it takes to make it big (no pun intended) in the international arena, like, hmm.. Benhur here.; some people here; and here ; and a lot more people out there; and finally and quite recently, Dragan Raca, the Yugoslav coach of the Lebanese basketball team who is also considered to be one of the best coaches in Europe. He believes the Filipinos are capable of topping the "Group of Death" in the FIBA-Asia Men's.

According to him as quoted by Team Pilipinas blogsite:

"The Philippines can beat everyone in that group with its speed. But it will also depend on the players' rhythm and their coaches' scouting," said Raca, who played for the Yugoslavian national squad in the '80s and was a teammate of the late NBA star Drazen Petrovic of the New Jersey Nets and journeyman center Vlade Divac, who suited up for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings.

Given the talent stacked in Group A of the FIBA-Asia preliminaries – China, Iran, Jordan and the Philippines – Raca said "it's very hard to pick which team will come out on top because all four are very good and play different brands of basketball."

Considered one of the top coaches in Europe, Raca said the young Chinese are the future of basketball in China, Iran is the most physical, the Philippines has the speed, and Jordan has been practicing for at least a year.

"They are of the same level, but the Philippines is capable of beating them if they do the right things."

Now let's take note of this:

"The Tokushima FIBA-Asia Championship, set July 28-Aug. 5, will pick Asia’s representative to the Olympics. As Olympics host, China is seeded to the Games.

If the Chinese make it to the FIBA-Asia final, then the other finalist will go to Beijing as well. If China fails to reach the final, then only the FIBA-Asia champion gets a ticket to the Games." - Philippine Daily Inquirer

For the first time in the Olympics, two slots are allotted for Asia. So, as national coach Chot Reyes pointed out earlier, we have a bigger chance to clinch that elusive Olympics berth. But the stakes are still high. Hereunder are three possible scenarios that can happen in Japan:

Artwork "Team Pilipinas" courtesy of Nike Basketball.

Scenario 1

Champion- China
Runner up - Philippines
Third - Lebanon (or any other team)

Scenerio 2

Champion- Philippines
Runner up - Lebanon (or any other team)
Third - China

Scenario 3

Champion- Lebanon (or any other team)
Runner up - Philippines
Third - Korea

Scenario nos. 1 and 2 are what we want, however take note that in scenario no. 2, Lebanon, despite winning second place will not make it to the Olympics since China is automatically seeded. When scenario 3 happens, only Lebanon goes in as well.

So the members of our current national team, our Team Pilipinas, will play the biggest games of their careers in Japan for flag and country. And I will join the rest of the nation to support them. Needless to say, I still want to believe in our program, our system, our brand of basketball, our strengths, our never-say-die attitude, and in our team - and in fact, I really do!

So will Team Pilipinas make it to Beijing?

You bet, I believe,we have a fighting chance!


How about you there, kabayan? Any take on this?

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