I saw the cracks in the wall, and I put my hand up to help fix it.
Back in April 2009, Team Hoopdreamz answered the call from the Philippines. There was a need for competition, and we sent in a rag-tag Australian basketball selection of available fringe National Basketball League (NBL) and Australian Basketball Association (ABA) players to the Philippines. It was to play a pair of goodwill exhibition games against the “cream of the crop” of Philippine basketball, the multi-million dollar, all-pro RP (Republic of the Philippines) Team. Nice lineup, but is this as good as it gets?
The Australian Great White Sharks were led by former NBL MVP Bruce Bolden and seasoned NBL veterans Graeme Dann, Anthony Susnjara and Eban Hyams. The rest of the squad were NBL hopefuls Tony Lalic, Goran Veg, Terry Amir, big man Patrick Piliae and a few rookies. Our support staff of Punongbayan, Da Jose, Joble and delos Reyes assisted us in Manila. I handpicked all of them three weeks before they were due to play. Meanwhile, big, tall, physical and athletic players were selected to give RP a different look.
After losing the first match by 24 points, the Philippine media ridiculed the Australian Sharks and the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) board of governors threatened to send our team back home. A change of heart from Commissioner Barrios allowed us to add two American imports for the second and final game. Tiras Wade and Shaun Daniels helped us immensely and we nearly beat the RP Team, failing in overtime 89-93. Four points. Great effort, boys. But not a single official, PBA executive or board member came to acknowledge us on and off the court. We went out and this is the thanks we get? With airfares, hotel and food covered, it was no doubt a great experience. In the end, a phone call from Coach Yeng Guiao was enough to feel appreciated.
I can only imagine the burden that each player carries for their country. It’s tough, but the golden era of Philippine basketball is long gone.
In July 2009, the RP Team was humbled through and through against tougher, taller, physical and outstanding competition. Losses stung from Jordan, Lebanon, Taipei, Japan and Korea – a lot. It’s etched on their faces. And it should get them thinking about the future.
The Jones Cup has thrown RP basketball into disarray. The cracks are bigger, and the problem cannot be resolved immediately.
I guess it’s only be a matter of time before the RP powerbrokers realise the game has truly changed and that it’s time to think about shoring up the country with foreign talent. Everyone else does, why can’t RP? Politics has got to go out the window if the Philippines wants to move forward in their quest for FIBA qualification into the Worlds.
Who’s in and who’s out? The selectors should pick the best talent available who can lead, play together and make the country proud. If I called the shots, I’d start culling the politicians of the game and handpick the players based on skill, talent, commitment and conviction. Naturalise foreigners. It’s simply a no-brainer. Invest in the future and reap the rewards later. Start sending kids overseas to learn the game.
Time is ticking. Perhaps, a bit of humble pie could help turn this basketball-loving country around.