It’s high school basketball finals time in the Universities Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), Palawan. We are talking about a battle between giants, the National University Bullpups and the Ateneo Blue Eaglets. Both teams boast of towering blue chip players in 7 ft 1 center Kai Sotto and 6 ft 9 power forward Geo Chiu for the Eaglets and Carl Tamayo (6 ft 7) and Kevin Quiambao (6 ft 6) for the Bullpups.
I watched some action in game 1 of the finals last Monday and I am impressed with the way NU clamped down on the Ateneo pair. The Bullpups played rugged man defense against Sotto. The moment he crossed midcourt line, either Tamayo or Quiambao met him up with the body up lockdown defense. This strategy, along with some heady guard play, allowed the Bullpups to take game 1 of the Final 70 – 58. Game 2 is scheduled Friday, February 22, 2019.
Having coached high school basketball a few years back in the Metro Manila Basketball League, I can’t help but see the difference on how nimble, quick and taller high school players are nowadays. I believe we are starting to see the positive impact of the Gilas programs as we witness the evolution of how we play the sport we all love. Start them young. It won’t be long until we see ourselves contending very well in the international scene…. I just hope that politics and inside fighting, a pain point in some (if not most) sporting programs, take the back seat permanently to allow unobstructed youth development.
And how is Team Pilipinas’ readiness for the make or break FIBA World Cup Basketball Qualifying leg scheduled Feb 21 and 24? Faced with an urgent need to win both games, head coach Yeng Guiao is doing everything within his control to prepare the team. Their string of practices leading to the tournament along with the recall of NBA veteran Andre’ Blatche gives our boys the best possible line up assembled relative to past qualifying windows.
As I write this column, Team Pilipinas is but one win away from making the 2019 FIBA World Cup hosted by China this year. Blatche’s return gave us a big boost and his presence was really felt on their February 21 game vs Qatar winning 84-46.
I do hope that the break between games will give some time for the Philippine team to do a few practice sessions to help integrate Blatche more with the core team led by reigning PBA Most Valuable Player Junemar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, Jayson Castro, Marco Lassiter and Gabe Norwood. Earlier in the month, Blatche only had a few practice rounds with his brothers due to an overseas commitment with his mother ball club in China. The two-day break will allow for Coach Yeng to fix and to fine tune plays in preparation for the much needed “W” vs Kazakhstan.
We all need to be aware that Kazakhstan is no pushover. They are generally taller than Team Pilipinas and can shoot the lights out at any given night. Our defensive rotation needs to hold ground and be quick enough to chase after this team’s shooters. They play very much like European basketball teams where they space out the floor and shoot three-pointers all over.
Our guards need to really work hard to defend the arc. One good thing is that our team today has a solid backcourt rotation with Castro, Mark Barroca, Paul Lee, and Scottie Thompson so I don’t anticipate issues chasing after corner shots and long threes. If we need to play a big guard rotation, we can always have Lassiter and Norwood play the 2 spots. One player that I wish we have at this point of the tournament is point guard Stanley Pringle. Alas, due to amended rules and guidelines initiated by FIBA, the governing body, Pringle is declared as a foreign player and the only way for him to be in the line up is to play as a naturalized player, a spot now being held by Blatche.
By the time of this column comes out, we would have known whether our boys made it to the World Cup of Basketball 2019. I just do wish that our sports development programs continue to develop bigs and shooters so we can consistently compete on major international sports tournaments. With the likes of Kai Sotto and Geo Chiu, we can safely say that height is guaranteed for our national team moving forward. Here’s a shout out to 3 point specialists Allan Caidic and Ren Ren Ritualo. Sirs, your services are needed to start developing more shooters for our country.
(The writer is a senior leader of the only Business Process Outsourcing Contact Center company in Puerto Princesa. He also is the current Puerto Princesa Underground River Festival Foundation President)