And so, the Philippines will march to the FIBA World Cup in September in China. Thanks to that 93-75 win of Gilas Pilipinas over Kazakhstan last Sunday, the Philippines earned its second straight trip to the quadrennial world championships as the best No.4 team in the Asia & Oceania Qualifying tournament.
Back in 2014, the Philippines bid to host the 2019 FIBA World Championships, and managed to eliminate countries like Germany, Turkey, Qatar, France, Lithuania, Russia, Venezuela and Mexico except for China, which eventually won in the final bidding process that took place in Tokyo in August 2015.
Remember how Hollywood Fil-Am Actor Lou Diamond Phillips pitched about the passion of the Filipinos in basketball? Or the disparity of the video presentations of both Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas and Chinese Basketball Association? Or the track records of hosting world events and the facilities available? Well that’s how the FIBA Board came up with a 14-7 voting to give China the hosting.
Without an automatic slot, Team Pilipinas underwent the rigorous home-and-away format Qualifying tournament for Asia & Oceania Zone. We were looking good on the first six games winning four games while losing two. But the brawl that happened last July against Australia and the back-to-back losses to Iran and the loss at home to Kazakhstan on the fourth and fifth windows, and the resurgence of Japan put the Philippines on the brink of losing its chances to make the World Championships.
But with the determination of the Gilas Pilipinas squad, the Philippines managed to punch a ticket to the China after defeating Qatar via a 38-point romp (84-46) and Kazakhstan by an 18-point margin at their home courts respectively, to finish with a 7-5 win-loss record, good enough to earn the best No.4 team finish in the FIBA Asia & Oceania Zone Qualifier, of course we got some assistance from 84-72 win of South Korea’s win against Lebanon. This will be our fifth participation in the World Championships.
Philippines debuted in 1954 in Brazil where the Carlos Loyzaga-lead Filipinos finished with the bronze medal, the best finish of any Asian country in the World Championships that is still unmatched as of this point. That was followed in 1959 in Chile, then the 1978 tournament held in Manila. Thirty-six years later we appeared once more in the world stage in Spain. In 2023 we will automatically get to play being co-host with Japan and Indonesia.
Only an incident like in 1963, when former president Diosdado Macapagal refused entry to players coming from the former Soviet Union countries, would prevent us from hosting the next FIBA World Cup. Remember, we will have a new president by 2022. But if there is anybody whom I would like to thank to, it would be Coach Yeng Guiao. Coach Yeng accepted the head coaching job when the morale of the Gilas Pilipinas was at its lowest following that shameful brawl with the Australia
Boomers that saw 10 players and two coaches slapped with suspensions and a hefty fine imposed to SBP. Australia also had their shares of suspensions and penalties, though only three players and lower fines were slapped to the Boomers. Having tough time adjusting to a new system, Gilas struggled on the fifth window. But Yeng’s perseverance and adjustments plus his decision to suit up Andray Blatche in the final two games was pivotal in those two important victories.
The “in-form” Blatche put up a double-double performance (17 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists vs. Qatar and 41 pts, 13 rebs, three assts, four steals and two blocks vs. Kazakhstan) that largely helped Team Pilipinas clinch a seat to China. Philippines joined Australia, New Zealand, Iran, South Korean, Japan and Jordan and host China as Qualifiers for Asia & Oceania.
While the other qualifiers around the world includes Tunisia , Nigeria , Angola , Senegal and Ivory Coast from the African nations; Greece, Germany, Czech Republic, Lithuania, France, Spain, Turkey, Italy, Poland, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro for the European countries; and United States of America, Venezuela, Canada, Brazil, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic for the Americas.
The Draws will be held in May in Guangzhou, China to determine the groupings of the teams. With seven months to prepare, coach Yeng is sure to make the team better. That is why I am thanking him for what he has done for Gilas Pilipinas and for what he will do for the team to the World Championships in September. Un-believer? Just give the man the chance, after all Guiao had transformed Rain or Shine Elasto Painters to be one of the best teams in the PBA. And it is just a matter of time that the NLEX Road Warriors will become a force to reckon with.