A FIBA official asked me during the course of the SEABA tournament: “What will it take for these Southeast Asian teams to beat the Philippines? The Filipinos are altogether on another level from these guys.”
In my opinion, the answer doesn’t lie in a program, naturalizing players, or even updating their training methods.
The answer to that question is a fundamental one – you have to love, live, breathe, eat, and crap basketball like Filipinos.
Until you (to our Southeast Asian neighbors), it’s like playing catch up. It’s not easy.
By the same token, you guys love, live, breathe, eat, and crap football that is why you are good at the Beautiful Game and we are the ones trying to catch up.
There’s talent in the other countries’ national squads. Some are fundamentally good – close to robotic even -- but most lack that mid-air improvisation that Filipinos learned from playing the game on virtually every kind of surface or area available. "Diskarte," as it is said colloquially.
I recall how former Philippine national coach Rajko Toroman had a drill where players would take odd and off-balanced shots. As the Serbian coach reasoned out with me before: “In basketball, there is a lot of improvisation. When you drive, you get bumped; when you take a jump shot – you get bumped or fouled – and you have to try and finish he play.”
It is no different from how football is played in their countries – not necessarily on the pitch – on roads, grasslands, cement courts, rice paddies.
There needs to be a love for the game.
If you look at the Vietnam men’s team competing in Manila, it is only center Nguyen Van Hung who stays to watch the other matches. Well, he’s older than most his teammates. While other know LeBron James or Kobe Bryant or Steph Curry, his favorite player is well… old school for millennials. “Michael Jordan,” he says proudly.
One team competing in this SEABA championships has this very bad habit of smoking after games and smoking after practice.
There definitely has to be discipline.
One coach said there isn’t anyone he can talk to about basketball where he currently is at the moment. “They practice, show up for a game and when those two hours are done, they forget the game. Here in Manila… it’s basketball nirvana for me.”
The current dominance or program does mean the Philippines is infallible. As the saying goes, “bilog ang bola” and anything can happen. But a loss is like an aberration here in Southeast Asian. Beyond this region, there are no guarantees.
But it all starts with a love for the game. A passion for it.
The FIBA official countered my answer with this: “If they do develop that passion or as you put it, ‘they love, live, breathe, eat, and crap basketball – can they defeat the Philippines?”
My answer: “Sure they can. The ball is round. But assuming their program bears fruit in 10 years’ time, I wonder where the Philippines will be by then.”
Maybe another level.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.