So that didn't end well. Gilas Pilipinas leaves China without a win to show in the 2019 FIBA World Cup in what was, to put it mildly, a disappointing campaign. What went wrong and what can be done to make things right? We asked five ESPN5.com writers who were in Foshan and Beijing and saw what happened up close and off the court.
1. What was Gilas' biggest problem at the World Cup?
JC Ansis, ESPN5.com assistant editor: It all boils down to inexperience, bad 3-point shooting and lack of cohesiveness.
Chuck Araneta, ESPN5.com writer: Lack of cohesion, as a result of limited time playing together. Look, we all saw it. None of this is surprising. A week of practice as a complete team is not going to be enough to be competitive in the PBA. Versus the elite in the world, featuring NBA-caliber players? Disaster.
It was painful to watch at times. All the confused faces, disastrous plays that ended up with poor shots, one-on-one with time running out. The shaking of heads by the coaches on the bench, and the tears that fell as Gilas Pilipinas knew more and more that they were headed for a disaster of epic proportions.
Charlie Cuna, ESPN5.com writer: Can I give two? Playing style and shooting. Obviously, one-on-one plays and so much dribbling will not cut it in the World Cup (except if you're the USA, which is still the best in the world, win or lose in this tournament). Lack of ball movement with a purpose spelled doom, especially against the European powerhouses. The poor shooting is hard to explain really. It may have been the overwhelming setting of the tournament, we all have seen these players hitting open jumpers regularly in the past. The shots just would not fall this time, and we are all, including the players themselves, shaking our heads.
Paolo Del Rosario, ESPN5.com writer: How much space do we have to write?
There is a laundry list of problems, and you can make a case for each of them being the biggest issue. Offensively, the 3-point shot wasn't falling and that spelled doom for the Philippines. While many would argue it is a function of not having the right personnel, most of the players shot well below their averages. The system didn't have a safety net when the 3 didn't fall. Defense was also non-existent for the most part, with opponents having a field day from the perimeter through wide open looks or bullying the undersized Filipinos inside.
Probably the easiest thing to point to, though, is that Gilas was not ready. Say what you will about how the team prepared, but if the coaching staff and players had more exposure to high-level international basketball then they could have adjusted appropriately.
Carlo Pamintuan, ESPN5.com writer: The team's lack of chemistry was the biggest problem and this was brought about their lack of preparation time. Troy Rosario, RR Pogoy, and June Mar Fajardo only had a couple of practice games alongside newbies CJ Perez and Robert Bolick -- two first-time members of Gilas . This problem showed not only on offense but also on defense as they found it hard to cover for each other.
I refused to put them blame here on the PBA. They adjusted their calendar multiple times, not just for the FIBA Asian Qualifiers, but also for the Asian Games. All these changes simply caught up with the league in the end. All countries had to be creative with the new FIBA format and that's why the teams with the most talent are dominating the World Cup.
2. What would be the best move for the naturalized player spot? If you say go in another direction, anyone come to mind?
JC: Well, it depends on how the national team program will move forward and the brand of basketball it plans to play. Will it continue to look for a big person for that role or will it opt for a shorter and faster guy? Either way, you'll want someone young who can shoot and will dedicate most, if not all, of his time to Gilas.
Chuck: I think Andray Blatche will have one more tournament with Gilas Pilipinas, if they get invited, in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Beyond that, it's time for the team to look for other prospects. If there's one takeaway here, it's that Gilas needs a naturalized player that is an elite shooter who can also play multiple positions in the frontcourt. Yes, they need a big body to battle against bigs like Hamed Haddadi or Nikola Jokic. But more and more, international basketball is trending toward big men camping out on the perimeter. Hopefully Gilas is looking at swingmen with size that can handle a little and can shoot the ball from beyond the arc.
Charlie: We need to expand the naturalized player pool. There are players willing to play for Gilas, including recent SMB import Chris McCullough. They need to naturalize a couple of more big guys, because I maintain that lack of size is the biggest problem. But they should also have a couple of quick guards in the 6-foot-4 to 6-6 range who can handle the ball, shoot from outside, and explode to the basket and finish. This gives the SBP the flexibility to choose from the pool depending on which tournament the country will participate in and the availability of the players. I am just not sure of the economics involved in having several players in the pool, which may raise the level of difficulty in maintaining one. Stanley Pringle, Christian Standhardinger, and Jordan Clarkson are always options to fill the naturalized player spot.
Paolo: This is probably the end of the Andray Blatche chapter of international Philippine basketball. Blatche's time with Gilas showed that the Philippines needs a naturalized player to make a dent on the world stage. While I appreciate the eagerness of former imports who volunteered, you have to aim high and target a high-level NBA or Euroleague big man. When Blatche joined Gilas, he was fresh from averaging double-digits with an NBA playoff team. That should be the standard of player Gilas seeks. Consider Jordan Clarkson to fill in Andray's shoes as the go-to naturalized scorer of the team in international tournaments.
If that's not possible, create a naturalized player pool to give the SBP more time to figure out who to take.
Carlo: The best bet to put up a much better performance for 2023 is to build now. With that, I think it's best to naturalize a player who will be readily available for Gilas Pilipinas duties such as Justin Brownlee. He plays two conferences in the PBA so he's in the Philippines most of the calendar year. Putting Brownlee in a team filled with youngsters who can be the core of our 2023 team should still result in a competitive team. However, for the 2023 World Cup, I think Gilas taps Jordan Clarkson for the naturalized spot as there seems to be little hope that FIBA would allow him to play as a local.
3. What's the most immediate thing that needs to be addressed with the Gilas program?
JC: The SBP needs to decide on a lot of things and reevaluate. What type of basketball is appropriate for the current and upcoming talent that it has? Is Yeng Guiao still the best person to coach the team? Who will replace Blatche? Is there anything else the PBA can do to help the program? Lack of international exposure and prep time had a lot to do with the showing in China, so maybe start there.
Chuck: What the team really needs is continuity. The goal is put together the best team possible in 2023, but they can't wait for 2023 to begin the process. It has to start as soon as they get back to Manila. Identifying the prospects, figuring out a timeline in order to get everyone ready for the next World Cup has to be done now. If there's one thing we learned from this experience, it's that cramming is not going to get it done. If this happens again on home soil, that might be something that the program will never be able to recover from.
Charlie: There are many, but the most immediate is the playing style, which may necessarily mean overhauling the coaching staff. There has to be a complete change in the way the team plays basketball. If the current staff can teach it and implement it, then well and good, but if not, then maybe new (or old) hires can be brought in to assist. Clearly, ball movement and quick reactions, particularly in the half-court sets, are must-haves, but even then, the shooting problem will not sort itself out. That is something that needs to be addressed from the roots. The program has to tap the best shooters it can find today, regardless of the league they play in, but also develop shooters for the future. Also, even if it is not a year-round, exclusive national team, the prospective national team players need to get together more often, even just for shoot-arounds and to walk through possible plays and to get to know each other better on and off the playing court.
Paolo: You talk to the Gilas players about playing against Italy and Serbia, and they will tell you that they aren't used to these athletic giants closing them out at high speeds. The Gilas pool and coaching staff needs prolonged exposure to high-level European teams that will force them to adapt and rise to the competition.
I'm convinced that if the national team is given hard tests against international competition outside of Asia, they will be a lot more competitive in any FIBA tournament.
Carlo: The calendar. The SBP should meet with the PBA and their stakeholders as soon as possible to map out what will happen from now until 2023.
4. We've already qualified for the 2023 World Cup as co-hosts. How do we approach the Asian Qualifiers?
JC: Use it as a training ground for the next World Cup. Plug in the young guys, add a few vets, and give them enough reps so that they get used to international play -- with the aim of being the top country in Asia, rather than trying to become a team that can hang with the Serbias and Italys of the world.
Chuck: Treat it as a training ground for the players identified as core for 2023. Let them get their reps against tough Asian squads. But we also have to remember that the World Cup game is played at a completely different level. So when possible, they need to compete in more pocket tournaments internationally beyond the Asian Qualifiers, in order for the youngsters to get a better taste of the task at hand.
Charlie: As though they are not qualified yet. They have to prepare for and attack the qualifiers as if they are fighting for a slot in 2023. That means fielding the best teams possible for every window and adjust the game to be the best that it can be when 2023 comes around. This is the only acceptable way.
Paolo: Most of Asia, save for Australia, floundered in the 2019 FIBA World Cup. No Asian nation qualified for the second round, and the tournament revealed the gap between Asia and the rest of the world. So the Philippines has to find a way to win convincingly in the Asian qualifiers by giving themselves a higher standard to compete with the basketball powers of other continents.
The Philippines has to use the qualifiers both as preparation for the World Cup and a litmus test on the team's readiness. The games can be used as a proving ground for some of the younger players that are being considered for the roster.
Carlo: This idea is not just for the Asian Qualifiers for 2023 but also for the upcoming qualifiers for the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup. They need to start fielding in younger teams. No one over 30, maybe except for the naturalized player should be seeing action in these games. The FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers include games against Thailand and Indonesia so the younger players should be able to handle that level of competition. My point is that everything should be building towards 2023. If Gilas has to take losses along the way to help build up our players, then so be it.
5. There's a chance Gilas gets invited to the qualifying tournament for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Should they accept?
JC: Yes. Even if making the Olympics is a long shot, competing in the OQT will give players more experience playing international ball, which Coach Yeng has been constantly saying the team needs.
Chuck: Absolutely. Yes, it's going to be a long shot to advance to the Olympics against other great countries. Gilas has to seize every opportunity it gets. The tournament could be Blatche's swan song, as well as veterans like Gabe Norwood and Japeth Aguilar. If they're up for it, they deserve to be given a send-off.
Charlie: Of course! They need to keep playing in international competitions. Every tournament Gilas can send a competitive team, they should. It will be hard to adjust schedules, but if the team wants to improve, to be more competitive, it surely must keep on playing.
Paolo: They should accept it in a heartbeat. The Philippines needs more exposure to top class competition. Gilas' goal shouldn't be to win a berth, but rather compete against those Olympic-caliber teams. It would be like the last time the Philippines hosted the competition, where the team tested their mettle against France and Turkey. The more experience players get, the better.
Carlo: I don't think it's a great idea. The teams that will be joining the OQTs are already too far ahead for Gilas to still catch up. It would be best to devote effort and time to start building for the future.