Going crazy in Seville for Gilas

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Thursday, September 4, 2014


Aristotle Banzon Batuhan
Contributor

SEVILLE, SPAIN —These last 18 months saw me dedicating some time to engage in a bit of sports that I hope will carry me through, healthy enough, for the next half of my life – cycling, golf and running (ok, more walking than running!), though not necessarily in that order.

I have also devoted some amount of money and effort to help push and support, in my own little way, a couple of sports in the Philippines with the most rabid of followers – boxing and basketball.

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With some friends and clients pitching in as well, two of boxing’s most promising stars, brothers Dodie Jr. and Dave Penalosa, have been the recipient of modest sponsorships in their last five or so fights.

Since I believe that cheering in person, is a most concrete way of showing support, I have been twice in Macau and Las Vegas, most recently, shouting myself hoarse during the recent fights of Manny Pacquaio, Milan Melindo and the Penalosas, among other Filipino fighters.

But it is in basketball where I have been most emotionally-invested lately. After “being there” for Gilas Pilipinas during the Fiba Asia games that saw our national team clinching a second-place finish that carried the prize of going back to the World Championship of Basketball after 36 long years, I made a pact with some fraternity brothers and friends to travel to far-away Spain to cheer on Gilas Pilipinas.

Half of the time during the countdown to our Spanish sojourn, we told ourselves that we expect to be mere tourists in Spain since being middle-aged men of modest intellect, as we like to believe, we knew how much the rest of the basketball world has improved by leaps and bounds after the Jaworskis (I confess to be a diehard fan!) and Adornados last brought us to the mix of international basketball.

Fast forward eight months, and here I am in Seville, after four games of Gilas at the Worlds pleasantly thinking why I ever doubted the Filipino spirit. It had to take an American with a Filipino heart, Rafe Bartholomew, to announce to the world of basketball that the Philippines is in the tournament to contend and not just as a sure-win for the opponent. All four very close losses have not been easy to swallow for me, as a Filipino basketball fanatic. I can only imagine the emotional drain that MVP is experiencing right now.

Right after the loss to Puerto Rico just a little over an hour ago, my son, JM who wasn’t able to come along with me this time because he is already starting law school at UP (I don’t feel as lonely and depressed when he is around during trying times as I take it upon myself to be the one to cheer him up every time we suffer an “L”.), asked – “Dad, is Gilas not just good enough yet or we just didn’t get the breaks?” My response to him was that, having seen Gilas and the other national teams up close during this FIBA Worlds, I can objectively say that we can play against and contend with the rest of the field (except perhaps against the US and Spain), but to win games, we need to put ourselves more often at this level of competition to be in a position to ride out play miscues while taking advantage of the breaks that come our way, to successfully close out a game.

And, very important, our grassroots basketball should put more emphasis on draining treys, as our main weapon, more than speedy layups inside the shaded area. That’s a no-brainer! Let’s wake up to the reality that all those behemoths have to do to swipe the ball during those layups, is to simply raise their hands. We saw too many of those in Spain, it’s beginning to look downright hilarious.

Is Blatche the perfect fit for Gilas? Should they have convinced James Yap more to join the lineup? Slaughter? Should they have given William (Castro) more exposure during the tune-up games instead of letting him baby his minor injury so he would be more ready at this tournament?

Did Chot commit some lapses in the dying seconds of the games against Argentina and Puerto Rico?

All I can tell you is that every Filipino will have something to say to all the questions posed above. That’s for sure. I don’t want to start a debate myself by answering these questions. I profess to be a Philippine basketball fanatic but not a technical expert in basketball. So let’s just keep our answers to ourselves, for now.

In the meantime, we cheer on our Gilas team against Senegal tomorrow. Please Lord, give us this one. We promise to be a better country and a more united people for the sake of basketball, and boxing!

(Aristotle Banzon Batuhan)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 05, 2014.

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