FIBA-Asia Aftermath

I’ll get right to the gist of the matter.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record and mentioning what everyone knows already, Professional Sports and playing for a National Team just doesn’t work. For example: As if to emphasize my point, fresh this morning as I wrote this, Yahoo reports that the Dallas Mavericks is not allowing Dirk Nowitzki to play for the Euro League. Notwithstanding both parties’ cordial reaction re the matter, the fact still remains a player’s two loyalties, playing for country whilst making a living playing as a pro is akin to having cake and attempting to eat it too.

You can’t make a living as a pro and then drop everything to play for free for the National Team and expect everyone (ie. your bosses) to be happy about it. You just can’t.

Having said that, I’m hoping to bring everyone’s attention to the elephant in the room. Everyone’s trying to ignore it, but it’s right big, freaking there, and until it is addressed, there’s just no going around it.

Even Smart-Gilas, the other National Team in the making, isn’t a solution in my honest opinion.

See, all players from the moment they hold a ball dream of going pro and swimming in big bucks. Nothing wrong with that, of course. If people are willing to pay you to let you play, why not? Great way to make a living. As a result, from College, you go to the Pros. That’s the natural order of things, and the way we’ve all been conditioned to think. Due to this, all of our best players are in the pros. No one can doubt that. What then, therefore, of Smart-Gilas?

Which player in his right mind would toil in the amateurs only to play for free (or comparably free) for a National Team? No matter how patriotic you are, when a pro team comes at you with an offer that’ll allow you to buy a house, car and security for your family, no one’s going to begrudge you for accepting. That’s just the way it is.

And once you’re a pro, there’s no turning back. Your bosses pay you big to make sure you play in the PBA, where they get a return on their investment. There is no ROI in seeing you risk injury playing for a National Team, alongside players from rival teams and possibly playing for a rival team’s coach.

Any attempt to create a team without addressing this fact, sadly, is just not going to be good enough. It’s akin to Manny Pacquiao going into a fight without working out. He can probably win a few rounds, he might even give a good account of himself, but against the best fighters, he’s never going to win. And all of us are going to applaud his efforts and say how we love him and will never lack for supporting him, but unless he comes in with his absolute best effort, winning is the stuff of dreams.

And that’s where we are at now with the Powerade National Team.

I will never criticize these players, from Kirby (yes even Kirby) to Miller, Yap, Baguio, Asi, Thoss all the way down the bench to Aguilar, for their lack of effort. They gave their very best given what was given to them, the few months of preparation and practice time together and lack of exposure to their opponents. I will even say that anyone who criticizes Coach Guiao is stupid, because what he did, again with what little he had, is amazing.

Whatever we lacked though, showed eventually. There were times when Miller would make excursions into the lane without knowing who to pass to, his teammates standing around not knowing what to do. Guiao mixed and matched players and player combinations even up to the last game. Every game saw something different from the RP team, and I don’t mean that in a good way. He never had a first or second team, he never established a ‘fast’ team and a ‘slow’ team, his defensive team from his offensive team. He just didn’t have the time.

These are signs of a team not knowing what to do with one another or even with themselves – something that can only be addressed by playing longer with each other. Again, that takes TIME.

TIME is something we don’t have, and until we address the playing for the National Team vs. the Pros issue, it is something we will NEVER HAVE.

I’m not going to pretend I know the answer to getting this done.

The only thing I know though, is that the most ideal situation to achieve this is for amateur players to aspire to play for the National Team, and not the Pros, or at least the way the Pros is run now. This addresses the root of the problem, kind of like creating a funnel where the best talent naturally flows into forming a National Team as opposed to the different Pro Teams.

How exactly? I don’t know.

Whatever solution it is, it’s going to have to be radical. Either we find an answer that will allow the PBA, the PBA Teams and the players to still make money while the players continue to play for a National Team, or we find a solution that avoids the PBA altogether, something that will attract the best players and allow the formation of a National Team while still offering the same privileges and compensation.

The end result being a true National Team with the very best coach in the country forming his choice of best players in the country, playing exclusively together, travelling all over the world, ALL YEAR, for several years, to play against the best competition.

Then and only then will I foster hopes for an Olympic spot. YES I said it, an OLYMPIC medal. As I said before and continue to say again, I have nothing but the highest praises for Miller, Yap, Baguio, Aguilar, Thoss, Pennisi, Taulava, Raymundo, Santos, Helterbrand and Coach Guiao. Inspite of earlier protestations, one or two players replaced on this team at the end doesn’t really matter.

At the end of the day, these guys played their hearts out to the best of their abilities with what little they were given. The problem is, they are given so little. So little time, so litte resources. It’s unrealistic to ask the moon when you give only enough to reach the clouds. The rest of the organization has to stand up. The rest of Philippine basketball has to deliver.