What is happening with the RP team?

may212007_rpteam.jpgAfter three games, the [tag]RP team[/tag] is still winless in the 18th [tag]FIBA[/tag] Asia Champions Cup in Tehran, Iran. All loses have been lopsided and it was easy to pinpoint the national team’s waterloo – they couldn’t defend against the opposing teams’ big men. In their first game, the RP team failed to contain 7-2 315-lb man-mountain Garth Joseph. Joseph, who played 4 forgettable games in the NBA, rattled in 39 points against the meek defense of Asi Taulava and Mick Pennisi and made it look like it was as easy as picking grapes in a vineyard. Against a Syrian team powered by the towering Bernard Jons and ex-PBA import Julius Nwosu, the team was helpless as the duo exploded for a combined 40 points and 19 rebounds. Taulava was a non-factor with a measly 7 points while the 6-9 Pennisi laid a big fat egg. Sure, the opposing teams have imports but how could you expect them to fare better against China’s NBA caliber big men of the 7-6 Yao Ming, 7-1 Wang Zhizhi, 6-11 Bateer Menk and draft hopeful 7-0 Yi Jian Lin if you can’t at least lay a hand on these journeymen bigs?

If the RP team plans to make some headway in the Asian Games, and other international competitions, they need to be able to defend the interior. Do we need a reinforcement? A superman of sorts? FIBA rules allow each team one naturalized player. If we can get at least one big who can defend and block shots inside the lane, that would be much better but if we can’t, we need to maximize our strengths and take away the opposition’s size advantage over us. Easier said than done ey?

We have great speed, respectable perimeter shooting, and we’ve got great playmakers who can make plays down the stretch. If somehow we can force opponents to play our game, that is a fast and furious transition game, fastbreak plays galore, full court pressure defense, then we’ve got a chance. Size is not everything in basketball as what the Golden State Warriors have taught us in this year’s edition of the NBA playoffs but to be able to run on the break, we need somebody out there who can rebound the basketball and defend the lane. [tag]Asi Taulava[/tag] and [tag]Mick Pennisi[/tag] were supposed to do that but they’re getting pummeled by younger, bigger and more athletic guys inside.

Taulava may be able to battle it out inside but he is not a shotblocker. Even at his listed height of 6-9, he doesn’t intimidate anyone and with age slowly creeping up on his battle-scarred body, he may find it difficult to keep up a step with other the International bigs. What about [tag]Enrico Villanueva[/tag] and [tag]Kerby Raymundo[/tag]? Well, they’re relatively short by International standards, and they do not have the explosive jumping ability to be able to make a difference on the opposite side of the court. Can you imagine Raymundo defending the 7-0 Yi? That would be a great mismatch! If the team can somehow find one who is at least six feet ten inches, plays center and defends the lane ala Alonzo Mourning or Marcus Camby, then by all means we should get him, and naturalize him immediately. Do you still remember ex-NBA player Jelani McCoy? He is said to have Filipino lineage. He is already 30 years old but he is still 6-10 and 245 lbs with decent post skills and shotblocking ability. I wonder if he can still play?

Guard play is also very important since we need great playmakers who can get the ball to our slashers, inside scorers and outside operators. Jimmy Alapag and Jayjay Helterbrand are our best point guards. They’re very capable backcourtmen who can shoot the lights out any given day and have what it takes to take the Philippines over the top. It still remains to be seen, however if they’ll be able to handle the pressure of carrying the national team off its back. 6-5 Fil-am Gabe Norwood from George Mason and Henkel Sista pickup 6-1 Ryan Reyes from Cerritos College could also be worthy of consideration. They’re young, exciting and can explode to the hole, players that we need in our transition offense. Mark Caguioa will always be able to do his thing on the floor. Coach Chot Reyes made a good decision to include him in the lineup despite notions that he is not a team player. Well, he is. His role is to score and help the team win. Of course, how could you ignore Dondon Hontiveros and Renren Ritualo? They’re two of the best shooters that we have. Their crisp shooting from the outside will help open the lane for our slashers like Danny Seigle and Mark Caguioa, as well as our inside operators like Taulava. Pennisi will always be valued because for a big man he can shoot from the outside. As you can see, I don’t think we should tinker with our lineup. We already have the ingredients to make a fine broth, and [tag]Chot Reyes[/tag] is the perfect person to stir them. He has the smarts, creativity and vision to take us to the promised land. We just need the perfect seasoning and great luck to be able to realize our goals.

UPDATE 05/21/2007: The Philippine team has placed a disappointing 4th Place at the 18th FIBA Asia Champions Cup in Tehran, Iran. Details here.