Wenceslao: Taller hoopers

Wenceslao: Taller hoopers
SunStar Wenceslao

My wife and I, with our son helping us out on our android TV, watched Brazil eliminate Gilas Pilipinas from contention for the Paris Olympics. As expected, basketball fanatics grumbled, with some of them even denigrating what the basketball team achieved in that Olympics qualifier held in Latvia recently. Gilas defeated Latvia, ranked number 6 in the world, before that loss to Brazil.

Our tallest player, the 7’3” Kai Sotto was injured earlier when Gilas lost by only a shot to Georgia. That loss catapulted Gilas to the semis because Georgia needed not just a win but a win by more than 10 points, to eliminate Gilas earlier. Without Sotto, Gilas was left with only Cebuano June Mar Fajardo to patrol the interior, a weakness that Brazil exploited to the hilt. Besides, Brazil is no stranger to international play.

I never grumbled against the Tim Cone-coached Gilas for a reason: the team showed us the big strides Philippine basketball has achieved in international competitions. We are back to being the team to beat as far as Asia is concerned. I used to follow the Philippine teams that we formed in the past and while these teams possessed all the talents and daring, they lacked one important quality to do well in the international arena: height.

But our version of diaspora and globalization have negated that one important quality. Filipinos are increasingly active in the international arena and we are now reaping the results of that setup. New generations of Filipinos have not only gotten taller, they have also assimilated whatever technological improvements the world is continuously offering.

A seven-foot Filipino hooper was unheard of before. Thus, when professional basketball became a thing in the past, we had to get tall western hoopers to gain the interest of Pinoy basketball fans. But things have changed a lot since then. There are now many basketball players of Filipino descent that can be found everywhere in the world. And homegrown kids like Kai Sotto have gotten taller because of either intermarriages or improved understanding of the wonders of nutrition.

That took away one key argument in the effort to put down our love for basketball, which is that we can never be good in international basketball because Filipinos are physically short. Look at the current members of Gilas. They can now overwhelm opponents because they are tall.

Of course, changes in international competition rules have contributed a bit to that. We can now “naturalize” players to strengthen the team like we did in the case of Justin Brownlee. But there is no denying that there are now Pinoy hoopers, either homegrown or Fil-foreigners, who are taller and bigger than the ones we had in the past.

We may not be able to become international champions but at least the problems we are facing now in forming basketball teams no longer involve height but talent. That is one of the reasons why I am not complaining about whether Gilas win or lose. This is because I am assured that at least we now have a vastly improved basketball product.

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