In our best ever Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) performance, Team Philippines dominated the region in grand fashion hauling close to 150 goal medals in this prestigious biennial meet. Congratulations to the organizers, coaches, athletes, and fans who went out of their way supporting the national cause. Yours truly hopes that this regional performance catapults Philippine sports to better showing in the higher levels like the Asian Games and the Olympics. We can start building our momentum more from the victories (and setbacks) we experienced in the SEAG this year.
We witnessed the Finals competitions of most team sports at the tail end of the SEA Games and as expected, Gilas Pilipinas swept the Men’s Basketball Tournament. In fact, the Philippines swept all gold medals in basketball showing, yet again, the country’s passion and love for the sport.
In volleyball, the Ph Women’s team crashed to a winless record but the Men’s team more than made up for that by a huge upset over Thailand in the semifinals. The Brian Bagunas and Mark Espejo led team, however, fell short of the gold medal falling to Indonesia 3 sets to none. Despite the loss, it is still a huge victory by the Men’s team considering that Thailand ranks 39th in the FIVB world rankings (the Ph ranks 131, last in the worlds). The Philippines poised themselves as a contender in this sport long dominated by Thailand, Indonesia, and even Vietnam. I do hope the Philippine team program in volleyball is sustained well through the years. We’ve got something good going there.
In soccer, although the Azkals failed to make it to the final, it was still a good match to witness as Vietnam outplayed Indonesia 3-0 in a dominating performance. Vietnam has gone a long way in sports development and you will see the discipline and execution in all sports they participate in. For a country smaller in population compared to us and Indonesia, hauling 98 golds (as of this writing and good for second in this SEAG) speaks volumes of their sports programs.
Thailand is also impressive with a 95 gold medal yield. Quite good for a country whose population is just under 70 Million.
Even if we dominated the 30th Southeast Asian Games, we can see that other countries put a premium on tenure and cohesion especially in team sports. I do hope that our programs get sustained well even if our nation isn’t hosting anymore. We need to send the very best of our athletes and the very best coaches for international play.
It is expected that our Gilas team dominate the Men’s basketball division but one thing I’d like to point out is the fact that we are able to line up 3 of our best big men namely June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar and Greg Slaughter (we can’t count Christian Standhardinger because he will be categorized as a non-Filipino in the Worlds and the Olympics).
If we can replicate that concept and put the best players when we host the World Cup in 2023, there’s a very good chance we can improve on our finish in this prestigious meet. Granted, June Mar, Japeth and Greg will be 34-35 years old by then so we may only be able to field 1-2 of them by the next World Cup but it is important that the development of Kai Sotto and AJ Edu continues because they can help the national cause as both players will be around 21-22 years old by then.
The next Gilas coach should have the same vision as its program director, Tab Baldwin. Better yet, why not give Tab a second run on the Gilas job and surround him with one lead assistant from the Euroleague and 2-3 tenured local coaches? I am sure the youth buildup will start for the 2023 cup as we already witnessed the “protected” drafting of the likes of Isaac Go, Matt and Mike Nieto, Rey Suerte and Allyn Bulanadi who wouldn’t be able to suit up for their respective PBA teams until their Gilas tour of duty is over. I expect the Gilas program and the PBA to continue the protected drafting in the years leading to 2023.
We still need a naturalized player to beef up the lineup and I suggest we take at least 2 scoring imports, preferably combo forwards, and keep them in the roster until 2023. We need 2 so we have a back up in case of injury.
Gilas will be rebuilding over the next few years as we expect the likes of Gabe Norwood, LA Tenorio, perhaps even Jayson Castro to hang up their Gilas jerseys and yield to the younger players. They’ve all served the country well and it’s time young blood is put in the limelight. We have a lot of youthful talented players that can excel internationally like Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena, Bobby Ray Parls (I hope he decides to suit up for the national cause for the 2023 Worlds), Kobe Paras, Sotto, and Edu.
Philippine sports is rocking and rolling and we can’t wait to see how we can make a splash in the international sporting events as we enter the next decade, Palawan.
(The writer is a senior leader in the Business Process Outsourcing industry managing Philippine countryside operations)