Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Busan Debacle: Revisited

The PBA-backed RP Basketball Team lost a 68-69 heartbreaker to Korea at the semifinal match of the basketball competition in Busan, no-thanks to a miracle shot by the Korean Hotshot Lee who flicked the game winner in the dying seconds in a won-game for the Filipinos that could have bettered their performance four years earlier in Bangkok.

The game was close throughout with the RP 5 leading by as much as 10 points in the early part of the game. The Koreans made a run of their own wiping the lead and gaining the upper hand at the turn by two points at 34-36 behind the sniping of their ace-gunner Moon who top scored for the host in the first half with 12 points, most of them coming from beyond the arc. The game was fought practically from all angles with neither team gaining the upper hand until the Koreans made a spurt which gave them a six- point lead coming into the last 5 minutes of the hotly contested game.

From then on the Filipinos slowly clawed back into contention behind the hot-shooting hands of Olsen Racela giving the Filipinos a two-point edge 66-68 after his three point shot with less than a minute left. The Koreans regained possession but failed to convert in the ensuing play with Racela being fouled in the process sending him to the line for two gift shots. But the usually reliable point guard failed to deliver and muffed both his charities. The Koreans got the rebound with the game clock winding down as they raced down the court trying to connect a jumper but fumbled their shot with the players going after the loose ball in a mad scramble until it slipped past the hands of RP defenders into the waiting hands of the Korean hotshot who picked it up and made the game winner at the buzzer after faking Racela and Taulava into the air, thus the Koreans escaping with a one-point margin of victory.

Another mind-shattering defeat for the fancied Philippine National Team in the nation‘s favorite past time. Once again, another sorry loss for the books by the once proud and mighty RP Basketball Team in the 2002 Asiad edition cage Wars.

The RP 5 campaign even before the start of hostilities in Busan was hounded by bad luck since the beginning what with Ron Jacobs suffering a stroke just when he was to about start to build the team into a fighting unit. Then came the loss of RP top-gunner Danny Seigle to a freak accident in a game against the visiting Qatar National Team just days before they were about to depart for Busan.

The loss of Dynamite Danny was a big blow to the game plan of Coach Jong Uichico and the RP campaign. Seigle's loss left a big vacuum in the Nationals offensive rotation. Seigle was a versatile explosive player with a potent touch from the outside and a mean first step to the basket. Surely he could have made a difference in Busan.

The Philippines had a roller coaster ride in their games in Busan. They steamrolled passed the United Arab Emirates, walloped and chopped down the 7'9" Ri Myong Hun-led North Koreans before disposing the young Chinese-Taipei quintet. Their first real test came at the hands of the dead-shot Orimo and the Japanese National Team before prevailing in the end behind the hustle of Jeffrey Cariaso and the heads up plays of Dondon Hontiveros. Then the much anticipated match with the Chinese. Yao Ming and company proved what a formidable wall China is in Asian basketball as they walloped and massacred the Philippines into smithereens with plenty to spare and sending them and their illusion of putting one over the mighty Chinese crashing back to earth to set the stage for the ill-fated clash with the Koreans in the semis.

The rest is basketball history.

The Philippines playing listlessly and lackadaisically in losing to Kazakhstan in the battle for the Bronze medal is unthinkable. But to most Filipinos, where basketball is almost a religion, it is really immaterial. The tournament once proved sending an ill-prepared squad to battle the oppositions abroad is not a sure way of giving a good account of ourselves and that sheer talent alone is no longer enough to bag a medal much less the gold in the Asiad. They went to Busan with high hopes and entertaining illusions of finally ending the Philippines' 40-year gold medal drought in the Asiad; instead they came home with heads bowed, egos shattered and without pride. The RP National Basketball Team, with their prides battered and bruised, suffered in their debacle in Busan deserved far better than the tirades and ridicules that they got from critics at home who had nothing good to say while failing to appreciate the time, effort and sacrifices made by these players for flag and country. They gave their all but came up short though it was not entirely their fault. They went to the Asiad with high hopes to conquer the lords of the ring but were instead conquered.

So, as opposed to all the hooplas when they left for Busan, they arrived home with nary a whimper. We looked like Frodo Baggins and Co. when ranged against the Chinese though, but that was another story.

They have nothing to be ashamed of. What happened in Busan is now water under the bridge. They gave it their all but came up short. That is the reality. That's Life- and it must go on for the members of the RP team and Philippine Basketball but this time hopefully in the right direction.

What we need is an overhaul of the entire Philippine basketball system and a commitment for all the alphabet-soup governing basketball bodies to settle their differences in the drawing board and come up with a sound and solid basketball program.

Let us start somewhere, re-focus our goals and rectify the errors of the past. Let the PBA, being the premier basketball league, lead the way. Let them show us that fighting for flag and country is paramount to all including crass commercialism and the color of money.

We need to build a strong national team. We need to send them to international competitions to experience first-hand what it is like to play against the world's best teams. We need to do away with the NBA-style of play and instead use FIBA rules in every basketball competitions including the PBA. The Americans were no longer invincible in the game that they invented as evidenced when they suffered their worst finish in the 2002 World Basketball Championships in Indianapolis just a while back.

The present crop of National players can be the nucleus of our future National team. They’re young and athletic. They experienced how to play the international brand of basketball and learned their lessons. They will become better basketball players. I still believe that on pure talent alone, the Filipinos still rank first in Asia. The PBA should expand their commitment to Philippine Basketball. They should throw their elitist and isolationist attitude to the waste basket. It is not enough that we send our best players to the Asiad alone. We need to prepare and polish them to withstand the rigors of the competition. We need to send them to the Asian Basketball Championships (ABC) to earn a berth in the World Basketball Championships (WBC) to have the ultimate ticket to the Olympics. We should aim for the ultimate glory and not to be content in being champion in our playground that is the SEA Games.

We need to hire sports psychologists, just like what the Chinese and Koreans are doing. We need to have mental toughness and eliminate the fear factor. It is defeatist to say the least. In the game against China we played afraid and failed to execute our game plan. Against Korea, we withered under pressure. In the battle for the bronze against Kazakhstan, the hearts and minds of the players were not on the game. So we lost, it's as simple as that.

How about if we allot a conference every year in the PBA calendar with the members of the National Training Pool playing against the rest of the PBA squad reinforced by imports using FIBA rules of course or playing against visiting teams from abroad (e.g. Australia). If the Koreans and the Chinese can do it, why can't we? It's about time for our basketball officials to wake up from their deep stupor and avoid another nightmare to fall on our national team in the future. It's about time to put a stop to our embarrassment as the laughing stock and favorite whipping boy of Asian basketball.

So, let us correct our mistakes. All we need is the will to make it happen. It's not bad to dream as long as we give our best in following that dream. All is not lost in Philippine Basketball though. We can start now. We can make it happen… The ball is now in the hands of the lords of Philippine basketball.
Posted in Opinyon- Pinoy

Here's the last 7 minutes of the Philippines' heartbreaking loss to the South Koreans--

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