As an avid Filipino sports fan, I have followed the travails of Gilas Pilipinas. Yet, I have waited for the final results of their last game in the FIBA World Cup before I post my observations here on Facebook.
It was refreshing to see Gilas end its campaign on a high note with its resounding triumph over Asian powerhouse China. As hosts, we were admirably polite in not bringing in the political angle.
But in view of the ongoing conflict between our tiny country and this Asian bully, we could ill-afford a loss. Winning that game is like telling the world that though small, we are not willing to turn over the ball that easily.
Any blocked shot made by Dwight Ramos or Rhenz Abando can symbolize our refusal to be bullied. The result was a resounding victory.
I could not remember any triumph we had against the Chinese with a bigger winning margin. (If memory serves me right, our last victory against China was in 2014 when Paul Lee broke the hearts of the Chinese fans when he calmly made three free throws when time already expired.)
Am I mixing politics and sports? Obviously! But that is to be expected. Indeed, today, even if the players from Russia and Ukraine are personal friends on the tennis tour, the latter would refuse to shake the hands of the former to make a political statement.
But the game I can best recall as at least partly with similar context is the World Cup quarterfinal match between England and Argentina in 1986. A few years before the game, the two nations were in an undeclared war over the Falklands, which Britain claims to be part of their territory, although thousands of miles from Buckingham Palace.
Diego Maradona scored the first goal of the match but he appeared to have touched the ball when he went for a header. After the game, Maradona’s quip was classic: The goal came from the head of Maradona and the hand of God.
But now that we have won the final game, will this save the coaching job of Chot Reyes? The national coach has been at the receiving end of calls for resignation. Some attacks against him have become extremely vicious. But does he deserve all the bashing from some fans?
I do not claim to be a basketball expert. I am an ordinary follower of Gilas. But I try to support my conclusions with factual data, rather than just engage in name-calling.
First, all Asian teams fared poorly. Not one qualified for the round of 16. China received a shellacking by an inspired South Sudan which has never been traditionally known as a basketball power.
Lebanon was beaten by Canada by 55 points! I guess Iran, who represented Asia in the Tokyo Olympics will soon experience a basketball winter since its towering center, Hamed Haddadi, is already 38 years old and all the banging has taken its toll on him.
Only Japan was able to win a game in the group stage when it beat Finland in a thriller. But Finland is more known for its winter and beauty queens than for its basketball.
Indeed, if we go by the differential between points for and points against in the group stage, the Philippines was the best-performing Asian country.
The point differential is negative 23 points. (It was beaten by 6 points by the Dominican Republic, 10 points by Angola, and 7 points by Italy.) The next best team is Japan with a negative 28. Jordan is – 77, China is – 80, and Lebanon is -100.
Secondly, does Chot Reyes deserve the boos and the calls for him to resign?
Let me first state that among the available coaches, Tab Baldwin has been my candidate. He is the most accomplished and what he has done for the Ateneo UAAP basketball team is truly amazing.
But for one reason or another, he was replaced by Chot Reyes. There have been rumors that he is blamed for the exodus of young Filipino basketball players to other countries. If true, we have been unfair to him for it is but natural for players to go where they can earn more.
But the next best-performing coach in the international arena is actually Chot Reyes. It was he who brought the Philippines back to the world stage in 2014. (Prior to FIBA 2015 in Spain, the last time the Philippines qualified for the World Basketball Championship was in 1973 in Puerto Rico where we had a team coached by Tito Eduque. We participated in 1978 but only because we were the hosts.)
And although we only won one game in 2015, the team coached by Reyes performed beyond expectations. The games against Croatia, Puerto Rico, and Argentina were decided only in the final seconds.
I have all the respect for the street-smart Yeng Guiao, but his coaching stint in the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China was disastrous. We were beaten by Italy, 108-62, by Serbia, 126-67, by Angola 84-81 in OT, by Iran 95-75, and by Tunisia 86-67.
We lost all our games for a 0-5 record. And except for the game against Angola, we lost in an embarrassing fashion. In fact, the Serbian coach arrogantly asked what business the Philippines was doing in the World Cup. Yet, there was no bashing in social media. Is Reyes simply a guy the fans love to hate?
Tim Cone is now the name floated by some fans. No doubt, Tim Cone is an excellent coach. His record in the PBA speaks for itself. However, it does not mean that success in the PBA can be automatically translated to success in international basketball.
Tim Cone is known as an advocate of triangle offense. However, it is still to be proven whether this system can work well in amateur basketball. The system needs lots of time to master, and time is a rare commodity when you consider that the different players come from different commercial teams.
He implemented that system in the Bangkok Asian Games in 1998. We ended up third, behind China and South Korea. It was a respectable finish. But far from exceptional.
Thus, I find all the anger against Chot Reyes misdirected. We have all reasons to be disappointed, even frustrated. But to bash someone who did his best is uncalled for.
I end this lengthy essay by explaining what is really elementary, the difference between disappointment and anger. Our blood should be boiling when we see an ex-cop being treated with kid gloves by policemen after he toted his gun to threaten a cyclist.
Why is there no outrage over a total of six hundred twenty-five million pesos of confidential funds for Sara Duterte as Vice-President and Secretary of Education?
Why do her offices need such confidential funds? She does not answer questions about these funds except to express a motherhood statement that education is intertwined with national security.
Then she said that she leaves it to the wisdom of Congress whether to grant her request or not. Such a convenient statement when one knows that Congress will just grant what she wishes.
Again, it is understandable that we are disappointed. But our angry barks against Reyes are directed at the wrong tree.
Disappointment over unmet expectations, anger against deliberate evil done in front of our noses…
Fr. Ramon D. Echica is the Dean of Studies of the San Carlos Major Seminary. He obtained his doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Catholic University of Leuven (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) in 1998.
The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LICAS News.