Editor's note: Much has been made about Gilas' lack of preparation, athleticism and size during their historically bad campaign in the 2019 World Cup. In the first part of this two-part series, we looked at how institutional differences between the Philippines and the rest of the world contributed to their losses. Today we examine the lessons Gilas can glean from the defeats and how they can move on.
Serbia and Italy were prepared for the Philippines. Even now, Gilas players would say that even if they had all the time they wanted, there just were not enough practices to brace for what happened.
"First of all, we were already put in a tough position where we were just complete a week before the World Cup," said Kiefer Ravena. "That's already a disadvantage. But those teams have probably been playing months before the World Cup. They've been playing games, playing against each other, playing against different countries. So the preparation that comes with it -- that's what we don't see."
Serbian big man Boban Marjanovic said the country's success goes beyond planning and practicing at the top level.
"We have good schools for kids when they start to practice," Marjanovic said. "I think every city has a team that's good, and they play a lot of tournaments. Kids love basketball, and we have so many kids play basketball."
It's safe to assume many Filipinos grew up the same way. Basketball is practically a religion in the country, and church is anywhere someone can dribble and shoot a ball. But why is it that the Philippines still looked so ill-equipped to handle the world's top teams?
Preparation is key but it goes far beyond a game plan for Serbia or Italy. It goes further than the World Cup, the Olympics or the Asian Qualifiers. Preparation has to extend to the very nature of Philippines basketball.
"It's common in Filipinos that when you see a big man, you tell him to park himself in the paint," said Gilas assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga. "We ask him, 'What are you doing outside?' We see this in every basketball court. You're tall, you stay in the paint. And when kids go to grade school, that's what their coaches teach them as well."
The Philippines will always have an abundance of guards. But the knee-jerk reaction for a Filipino who stands more than 6-foot-5 is to turn him into a big man who can dominate inside.
There's no shame in that. June Mar Fajardo has cemented himself as arguably the G.O.A.T. in Philippine basketball because he's bigger, stronger, and more mobile in the post than anyone else.
And it's a credit to Fajardo's greatness that despite being trained that way all his life, he's still able to make an impact in the international scene. But it's easy to see the difference in the style and upbringing of players in other countries when you compare Fajardo to someone like Italy's Danilo Gallinari. The Oklahoma City Thunder forward is listed at 6-10 and moves around the floor like a gazelle.
"You don't see on your TV just how big they are," said Troy Rosario of the Italians and Serbians. "Their skills are amazing for their size. They're so quick. The players that are my height are guards. Players June Mar's height are those we have to defend. And those guys are still so fast. They're so disciplined, you can tell that they've been together so long."
"We take it a challenge in facing those players," Ravena added. "But sometimes there are things that are out of your control -- they're bigger, they're stronger than you, really more athletic than you. Even if you do your best, it can do so much. It just looks so easy to them, and that's why they beat us.
Gilas finished last in the FIBA World Cup. It seemed unreal that the Philippines, with its millions of basketball-loving fans, can produce a team that finishes in 32nd place.
But that's the reality of the situation. An 0-5 showing, which ended with Iran celebrating an Olympic berth at Gilas' expense, will be one of the lasting images from this campaign. But more than the losses, losing the way Gilas did is what disappointed fans the most.
Many people are asking for changes. Coach Yeng Guiao resigned soon after their return. Fans want players replaced and the entire programs scrapped. That's what happens when a nation -- that holds basketball so dear to its heart -- is embarrassed. Accountability is demanded, and people want to see heads roll. But is that really the solution? Players and coaches come and go. Will just churning the roster be enough in four years?
Basketball, when boiled down to its most basic state, shouldn't be that complex. It's simply five people passing the ball around, moving without the ball, and looking to get the highest percentage shot possible.
Ultimately, according to Arespacochaga, it comes down to changing how the Philippines sees basketball.
"If there are any coaches out there reading this: It's not about X's and O's, where you're supposed to go, or what you're supposed to do," he said. "It's concepts, both offensively and defensively. It's a concept like if you're not open, move the ball to the open man. It's very simple, but we see that a lot. If you don't have a shot and there's a bad closeout, penetrate, attract the defense, move the ball to the next man."
"Those are concepts," he continued. "Setting screens, reading the defense and reacting. If the defense takes away your left, go to the right. On defense -- talking, switching, communicating. Very simple concepts that up to the PBA level are taken for granted. ... I hope that when we look at these games, we look at how they play and their concepts. Some of the plays are very simple, but the way they play, as well as their concepts, is key."
The World Cup was a painful but necessary education for Gilas Pilipinas. Cramming is no longer an option. When the Philippines co-hosts this event in 2023, the team won't be able to thrive with this kind of preparation. The change in basketball concepts must be installed as early as possible, while they still have the time.
"You love to see the game played the right way and as a team sport," said Gilas captain Gabe Norwood. "That's something to see whether you're sitting on the bench or on the court, just things that come natural. When you break it down and step aside for a bit, you say 'Of course that was the right play to make.' But they make it, and they make you pay in every situation."
There are encouraging signs, however. Youngsters like Kiefer Ravena, CJ Perez and Robert Bolick should be fixtures in the program, as well as wing defenders like Troy Rosario and Roger Pogoy. Fajardo should still be able to provide great value, alongside up and coming players like Carl Tamayo, Kai Sotto and AJ Edu. That's not even mentioning studs like Dave Ildefonso and Juan Gomez De Liaño, among many others.
These players have all grown up watching the sport and seeing it evolve. They also know what it will take -- the preparation and approach to the game that will help them be successful. It's a matter of understanding that the European style of play, for all its fancy passing and crisp shooting, is not a different game from that they're playing. It is simply just basketball.
"It's a long-term process -- it's a system down the line," said Arespacochaga. "And I think that's one of the things we take away from this experience -- not just this one, but all the experiences before."