Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, August 7, 2017

FIBA Asia a huge challenge for Gilas Pilipinas

FIBA Asia a huge challenge for Gilas Pilipinas
by rick olivares

There was a remark by Philippine National Team head coach Vincent “Chot” Reyes to this writer hours before the team left for Beirut, Lebanon, to participate in the FIBA Asia Cup.

“Before we worry about our opponents, we have to worry about ourselves,” underscored the veteran national team mentor.

And he is so right. There were so many concerns including surprise ones that hounded the team right up to its departure.

The nationals are bereft of key players in naturalized center Andray Blatche (who opted not to play after the United States government issued a travel advisory telling its citizens to avoid the smoldering cauldron that is the Middle East), injured center June Mar Fajardo as well as a few recent but key additions in Troy Rosario and Allein Maliksi.

The team had only one practice where the entire roster was complete and that was last August 1 that was coincidentally Reyes’ birthday. Players have come and gone in practice because of their respective PBA club campaigns. Their final day of practice in Manila saw only 10 players dressed.

Once you get past their roster concerns, there is their collective lack of big game experience.

This has been a crucial piece in the program’s back-to-back silver medal finishes in the continental championships in 2013 and 2017. The Filipinos played tune-up matches against top-ranked sides in Europe that greatly helped in their preparation.

Fajardo himself points to these games as hastening his development that saw San Miguel win four of the last five PBA conferences. While the team lost Fajardo, Reyes and the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas braintrust received some good news when veteran Gabe Norwood returned.

Norwood is one of the longest-tenured national players of recent vintage who really turns up his game when national pride is on the line. He has the height, length, and athleticism to play several positions. Plus, he is the team’s defensive stopper.

During the recent Seaba Championships that saw the Philippines massacre its outclassed regional competition, there were critiques that the fielding the senior side was overkill. In hindsight, the coaches were correct in doing so because now it was the only good tourney to get the players some meaningful game time.

Of the team that competed in the Seaba, those in the FIBA Asia roster include guards Terrence Romeo, Jiovani Jalalon, Jayson Castro, and Roger Pogoy; forwards Calvin Abueva and Matthew Wright; and forward-centers Raymond Almazan and Japeth Aguilar. Those in the FIBA Asia roster who participated in the last William Jones Cup include Jalalon, Pogoy, Wright, and forward-center Christian Standhardinger. And the latter’s inclusion turns out to be a massive addition given the stratospheric challenges of the team.

Back to the big game experience, the national sides that competed in FIBA Asia (as coached by Reyes and Tab Baldwin respectively) trained in Europe. Sure, our players are exposed to playing to huge audiences in the Philippines (the PBA and the NCAA and the UAAP) but the international game is a wholly different setting.

And there’s the matter of the opponents the Philippines will face in the group stage. China is the only team ranked higher than the Philippines at #14 but that doesn’t mean that Qatar (#50) and Iraq (#94).

Qatar has been a tough opponent in the past several years with its bevy of naturalized players. They have several veterans who know us so well.

Iraq is one of those West Asian sides that is on the rise. In the 2016 West Asian Basketball Championships, Iraq finished third right behind Iran and Jordan.

China can never be taken for granted even if they have a young side. They have young players who are coveted by NBA teams. Furthermore, China has the tournament’s tallest frontline. They have two seven-footers in 7’2” Li Muhao and 7’1” Han Dejun. Hu Jinqui who is coveted by NBA scouts stands 6’11”. There’s Gu Quan who stands 6’7”, Ren Junfei with his massive physique is 6’8”.

In contrast, the Philippines’ average height is 6’3” although Aguilar stands 6’11” while Standhardinger and Almazan are 6’7”.

Reyes though ended his conversation with this writer by saying that the challenges have not diminished the national’s sides fervor and determination. “I like the fact that we are operating under any big expectations. But make no mistake, we will do our best.”

However, Norwood put it best. “The conditions are right for us to shock the world.”

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