The recently concluded 2018 FIBA 3x3 World Cup held at the Philippine Arena from June 8 to 12 was an eye-opener in many ways to the Philippine basketball community. For a country that prides itself as a basketball-hungry nation, we realized that there's so much to understand with regard to the 3x3 game. Seeing professionals and world-class talent up close was a humbling and learning experience.
It's safe to say that the 3x3 game is unique and special in its own right and there is a significant difference from the accustomed 5-on-5 game.
Both the men's and women's Philippine teams fell short of getting past the group stage of the tournament. Despite their best efforts, their lack of experience got the better off them.
Champions Serbia (men's) and Italy (women's) represent where the Philippines wants to be in the future.
And in the wake of the 2020 Olympics and r3x3 as an official sport, there are many things we can take from the 3x3 World Cup that can help the Philippines in the long run.
Here are some of the things we've learned from the five-day tournament:
Know the rules and use them to your advantage
There are many differences between the 3x3 game and 5-on-5. From the size of the ball, the shot clock, time limit, scoring, penalty situation, and the rules, all of the variances could mean a win or a loss for a team.
In the men's loss to Mongolia, the physicality wasn't really the problem. Christian Standhardinger said it himself when he pointed out that the issue wasn't the hard physical play, rather it was the inexperience of the Philippine team. Even though the two unsportsmanlike fouls definitely hurt the Philippines, the penalty situation was just as costly.
In 3x3 basketball, team fouls 7, 8, and 9 result in two free throws. The 10th provides a harsher penalty with two shots at the foul line plus ball possession. Every touch foul or a slight shove can turn the momentum and give extra shots to an opponent.
The women's team had a similar problem in their last game against Spain. Jack Animam was called for a foul and a technical with roughly six minutes to play, resulting in a penalty situation for the girls the rest of the contest. The Philippines lost 21-17 and the extra shots hurt their chances.
On the flip side, Mongolia, Spain, and the rest of the countries used the Philippines' aggression against itself. As soon as they knew that we were in the penalty they were more aggressive attacking the paint and fished for more fouls.
In a 10-minute game, every advantage is a must to carve out a victory.
Experience is the best teacher
The two Philippine teams played much better in their last set of games in Day 3 and 4 of the competition compared to the first two days. That's no fluke and it's also not just because they faced a different set of opponents. As soon as they had two games under their belt, they played with more experience, and performed much better.
At the end of the tournament, all eight Filipino players, and the coaches, confirmed that experience in the 3x3 game is needed.
Tied with experience, chemistry in a 3x3 setting is just as important. It was the first time that Standhardinger, Stanley Pringle, Roger Pogoy, and Troy Rosario were all together for a tournament. In comparison, three out of the four players from Serbia have competed in three World Cups before the one held in Manila. And when they fielded in a new player and a rival in their pro circuit, Stefan Stojačić, just for the 2018 games, Bulut shared it was a concern for them in the beginning.
Fortunately, our women's team has that chemistry having been members of the national team Perlas Pilipinas, and three of them came from the same school. What doomed them, however, was their inexperience.
Familiarity, knowing each one's strengths and weaknesses, plus mileage and experience in a 3x3 setting, is needed to compete at a world-class level.
It's time to look at a long term 3x3 basketball program
As mentioned earlier, the rules, pace, and style in 3x3 basketball is very different from the traditional 5-on-5 game. Serbian Dusan Bulut, a 3x3 veteran, also cited that the gap between the 3x3 players and 5-on-5 players is wide.
Serbia, ranked as the world's best, continues to excel in 3x3 basketball because its players have all their attention to the discipline. Not only do they field in the same set of players for nearly every edition of the World Cup, but they also compete in the European championships.
It's no wonder that the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) has gained interest in trying to develop a 3x3 program. It was discovered that simply combining talented players, even from the PBA, won't cut it. A structured agenda with planned tournaments and set of players is needed if you want to compete against the world's best. Rosario said it best when he mentioned that he believes a 3x3 pool separate from the Gilas team is something that should be considered.
Of course, this is easier said than done. We don't have 3x3 professional leagues and there have only been a handful of tournaments across the country. Plus, it's hard enough to get enough preparation time for the national team, and it could be just as difficult in a 3x3 setting. Still, there are measures that can be done in better equipping the Philippines for future editions of the 3x3 World Cup and the SBP will definitely look into those.
Overall, the Philippine teams' efforts in the 2018 FIBA 3x3 World Cup shouldn't be considered as failures. It was the first time that fans, officials, and players from all over the country were able to see the 3x3 game played at the highest level up close. Even though we've sent athletes in previous editions, there was nothing like seeing the world's best in our very own backyard. The biggest takeaway for the Philippines from the five-day tournament wasn't so much about the wins and losses. Instead, it's the learnings and experiences that the players and officials gained. Hopefully, that will result in more victories for the Philippines in the future.