Basketball took the limelight again in the Philippines’ Asian Games (Asiad) participation in Indonesia following two developments – the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) agreeing to send a team after initially withdrawing from participation; and the inclusion of National Basketball Association (NBA) guard Jordan Clarkson in the roster. In partnership with the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), the SBP gave the green light to assemble an all-pro squad to represent the country in the Asiad, built around the core of the Rain Or Shine (ROS) team plus a select few from other PBA squads, and to be directed by former National Team coach Yeng Guiao. Although short in preparation, the team passed its first test with flying colors, clobbering Kazakhstan, 96-59, last Thursday. The win surely brought the excitement back to this hoops-crazy nation that eagerly awaits Clarkson’s debut when the Nationals tangle with powerhouse China tomorrow.
Eight of the 12-man line-up are current or former national players namely: Gabe Norwood, Raymond Almazan, James Yap, Chris Tiu, Asi Taulava, Paul Lee, Beau Belga and Christian Standhardinger. The other four are Global Port gunner Stanley Pringle, ROS playmaker Maverick Ahanmisi, Blackwater big man JP Erram and the Cleveland Cavs’ Clarkson. The Philippines needs to defeat China tomorrow to avoid a quarterfinal collision with traditional rival Korea, which hammered Mongolia, 108-73, also last Thursday.
Now, let’s review the country’s performance in the Asian Games’ basketball event in previous years. But first, it should be noted that Asiad basketball is not part of the FIBA calendar, which means that the results have no bearing in any FIBA event like the World Cup or Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Although winning a medal in the Asian Games basketball event would be marvelous for bragging rights and record purposes, it won’t improve or demote the country’s ranking in FIBA. This is why the Gilas Program is more focused on FIBA events like the Asian Championships and World Cup Qualifying Tournaments. As for the Asian Games, the Philippines has a total of four gold medals in the basketball event, tying Korea for second spot in the all-time record. China leads all nations with seven championships. However, all four golds were won in the first four editions of the Asian Games – 1951, 1954, 1958 and 1962 – during the Caloy Loyzaga era. Since then, our best finish came in 1990 when the first PBA-backed national squad took the silver behind host China. My personal favorite team, this batch was the country’s version of the “Dream Team” with players like Ramon Fernandez, Allan Caidic, Samboy Lim, Alvin Patrimonio, Hector Calma, Ronnie Magsanoc, Yves Dignadice, Rey Cuenco, Dante Gonzalgo, Zaldy Realubit, Chito Loyzaga and Benjie Paras, and coached by no less than the “Big J” Robert Jaworski. With just two months of training, this band bested Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, and Japan twice, but bowed twice to China in Beijing, including the gold medal match, 76-90.
In 1994, the Norman Black-led PBA selection squad fell prey to Japan in the bronze medal bout, 76-79, in overtime, to finish fourth. Budding PBA stars like Johnny Abarrientos, Ato Agustin, Marlou Aquino, Franz Pumaren and Kenneth Duremdes were part of the roster. Four years later, Tim Cone piloted the 1998 Centennial Team to a bronze medal win over Kazakhstan, 73-68, in Thailand. His troops included Olsen Racela, Andy Seigle, Jojo Lastimosa, Jun Limpot, Dennis Espino, EJ Feihl and Vergel Meneses. Current Gilas head coach Chot Reyes was Cone’s deputy. Patrimonio and Caidic saw action in the 1990, 1994 and 1998 Asiad. In 2002, it was Jong Uichico’s turn to steer the young but tall Nationals that included Taulava, Eric Menk, Danny Ildefonso, Mick Pennissi, Rudy Hatfield, Dondon Hontiveros, Noy Castillo and Jeff Cariaso. But the Kazakhs got back at the Pinoys in the battle for bronze, 68-66, as the Philippines settled for fourth spot.
In 2006, FIBA suspended the country following internal conflicts within the Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP), which forced the Philippines to skip the Asiad. The country returned in the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou with the Rajko Toroman-led Gilas 1.0 that finished sixth. And in 2014, Gilas 2.0 salvaged seventh place just weeks after a respectable World Cup finish in Spain.