(Photo courtesy of Motto Cosmos)
Something just doesn’t pop under your nose; you have to work for it.
— Lebron James
CALOOCAN CITY, Metro Manila — Truth be told, basketball is the number one sport in the country—not only because most Filipinos love the action-packed face-offs between their favorite teams but simply due to its incredible appeal to the old and the young as it is not only a game but also a major business and a beacon of hope for aspiring kids to earn the big bucks.
When I was in my 30s, I stood an even 6-foot-two, and those who noticed my ‘un-Filipino’ height often asked if I play basketball. To this, unfortunately, I replied in the negative because in my elementary and high school days at San Beda College in Mendiola, I was more interested in running sports, baseball, and football rather than joining most of my classmates on the covered court to dribble and shoot. That is even when my seatmate in class, Eduardo ‘Eddie Boy’ Bagatsing—the son of the illustrious mayor of Manila Ramon Bagatsing, who served the city five consecutive terms from 1971 to 1986—tried to convince me to form with him and his brother Valentin or Val a formidable team to fight other squads with smaller players from rival (class) sections.
I didn’t regret this, though, as our school’s physical education instructor, Edmundo ‘Ato’ Badolato, whom decades later I learned was actually no less than the legendary coach so many admired, saw potential in me in baseball, football, and track-and-field. I was a fast runner and I guess I could have excelled in these three. I say “could have” because it was really unfortunate that my grandma didn’t like the late afternoon practice sessions and always wanted me to be home before the 6:00 o’clock Angelus.
Anyway, let’s set aside my personal issue with regard to Filipino’s favorite sport. At this point in time, let me discuss my opinion about basketball here in our country.
I’m sure you have heard about the pending plans of our senators to conduct a probe concerning the sorry performance of our national men’s basketball team Gilas Pilipinas in recent campaigns on the international stage. This is despite throughout the history of our sport, our local basketball teams have had some of the best foreign players and coaches that the sport could offer. Pardon the digression, but I just want to present how the Philippines, though considered as ‘third world’ has had world-class coaching talent for basketball—due in part, as I have already mentioned earlier, to basketball being a major business and Filipinos’ number one sport.
Yet it’s not really all about money since coaches also take the challenge as a more fulfilling personal mission than simply coaching another college or pro team in the United States or Europe. What they truly realize is that mentoring our national team would mean millions of fans worshipping not only the players but also the coaches. This is perhaps why we see in several forums true Filipino basketball fans have been defending and clamoring for the return of celebrated American-Kiwi coach Thomas Anthony ‘Tab’ Baldwin, who in 2021 took over as head coach of the Philippine team and led it to three wins out of three games in the final window of last year’s Fédération Internationale de Basket-ball Amateur (FIBA) World Cup Asian qualifiers.
Two days ago, it was announced that New Zealander Nenad Vučinić, a protégé of Tab Baldwin and assistant coach and consultant to Gilas Pilipinas and the Meralco Bolts, filed his resignation from both his posts. The Game 7 loss of the Bolts to the San Miguel Beermen was his swan song.
However, Samahan ng Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) spokesman Sonny Barrios clarified that it was not really a resignation but more of a non-renewal.
Let me quote from my idol ‘Basketball Sleuth’ Michael Angelo Asis in his column: “It figures since Vučinić was the coach of the New Zealand national team, taking the reins from Baldwin himself. The Tall Blacks are one of the powers of FIBA Asia-Oceania and made their mark on the world stage. It’s clear that hiring Baldwin and eventually Vučinić was propelled by the goal of reaching similar heights.
“Further reports stated that Vučinić ‘wanted to help but was not given much opportunity to do so. It was previously assumed that he might coach Gilas in the FIBA Asia qualifiers 4th Window, which made sense since (Vincent) ‘Chot’ Reyes is busy with TNT (Talk ‘n’ Text) Tropang Giga’s campaign to defend their (Philippine Basketball Association’s) Philippine Cup (crown)—definitely important for the MVP group’s ego, especially since the SMC teams are in the semifinals.”
We agree that this is a clear message that the Alfredo ‘Al’ Panlilio-led SBP and their backers are desirous of insisting on ‘live-and-die’ with local coaches—specifically coaches from the PBA—so they are no longer openly interested in hiring foreign talent and the infusion of world-level experience and tactics.
This actually doesn’t make sense and all the more with SBP’s insistence to have Chot Reyes take the reins of Gilas. I guess it hasn’t dawned in the minds of the SBP leadership that they would still have to wait for the Tropang Giga head coach.
Quoting again from ‘Basketball Sleuth’: “Chot had reportedly resigned his post, but the SBP refused to accept it and kept hailing him as a selfless hero/patriot/savior. For Filipino basketball fans, all they want is the best team possible and a more dignified finish in the World Cup, where we finished 32nd out of 32 (teams).
“Basketball development will live and die with the SBP, and with more PBA involvement, we are unlikely to have foreign coaches in the future.”
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