The campaign of Gilas Pilipinas in the just-concluded Manila leg of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) should not be considered a failure but a step in the right direction.
That is what former national team head coach Yeng Guiao believes after the national team went winless in the elimination round of the group stage and missed the crossover semifinal round of the OQT.
“This is not a failure to me,” said Guiao while waiting for his turn as a guest TV analyst prior to the final game pitting France and Canada last Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“This is a step taken towards the right direction. Two months will not suffice for the training of the national team… maybe two years will not suffice, although we have started Gilas… 4.0 Gilas na to di ba? Baka 7.0 or 8.0 Gilas tayo bago tayo mag-succeed.”
“Because there is no shortcut,” added Guiao, currently the coach of reigning PBA Commissioner’s Cup champion Rain or Shine who called the shots for the Powerade-backed national team during the 2009 FIBA Asia Championship in Tianjin, China.
The national team earned a spot to play in the OQT after it placed second behind China in Changsha in last year’s FIBA Asia – a runnerup finish that earned Gilas a shot at making it to the Rio Olympics.
However, against the FIBA world No. 5 ranked France headed by NBA superstar Tony Parker, and No. 21 New Zealand, the lack of preparation doomed the national team’s campaign.
Gilas put up a gallant stand but still suffered a loss to against France (93-84) and New Zealand (89-80) in Group B of the preliminaries. Parker and company ruled the event by beating Canada in the Finals, 83-74, to clinch the last ticket to the Olympics set Aug. 5 to 21 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“I think we should be proud of our national team, they (Gilas) gave France a scare, and gave New Zealand a tough time, considering the lack of practice time together,” said Guiao, who also mentioned the injuries to players like Greg Slaughter, Paul Lee and Marcio Lassiter.
“Ibang level kasi tong competition na to. If our purpose is to make the Olympics or the World Championships, the best way to get there is through the FIBA Asia, hindi dito sa back door – like the Olympic Qualifying Tournament.”
“Kasi makaka-laban mo talaga ang tough European teams. We must understand that after the NBA, ang pinaka-mabigat na level ng basketball is Europe. After Europe is South America, after South America, Africa. Saka pa lang papasok yung Asia,” added Guiao.
The 57-year-old mentor noted that while the OQT gave the Philippines that opportunity to still make it to the Rio Games, in reality, it would take not just luck but a miracle to beat France in the finals, Canada or Turkey in the knockout semifinal round.
“Alam naman natin na itong qualifying tournament na to is baka sakali lang,” said Guiao. “Hindi natin nakuha doon sa FIBA Asia (after losing to Rio-bound China in the Finals), we’re trying to do it this way.”
“Ang mahirap kasi dito is kailangan tsambahan mo yung European teams, tsambahan mo France and then New Zealand. Sa FIBA Asia, kapag nalusutan mo yung Korea and Japan, tsambahan mo lang yung China or Iran, which is more realistic and doable,” he said.
“I think our preparation (for the next tournament) should be beating China or beating Iran, instead of beating European teams. Dun muna tayo mag-umpisa. But it’s a process,” added Guiao.
As for the calls to develop another group of college players – Gilas Cadet – to be handled anew by coach Tab Baldwin, that will only hinder the Philippines in their campaign in world competitions.
“I guess the biggest mistake we can make is kapag hindi na nagpa-participate ang PBA with their best players. If we go back to the cadet system, that will set us back us again,” said Guiao.
“If you remember, na-setback na tayo noong hindi na nag-participate ang PBA (2009-2011 with the Gilas 1.0 under Serbian mentor Rajko Toroman,” added the former Pampanga congressman.