by Tito S. Talao
The Philippines has returned to the global stage. But preparation leading up to the 17th FIBA World Cup next year will be nothing as regimented as the training the national team went through for the 27th FIBA Asia Championship at the Mall of Asia Arena.
If at all, the Gilas Pilipinas players will bid each other farewell in a day or two, return to their respective ballclubs to resume their PBA careers on Wednesday, and be reunited for flag and country no earlier than August next year.
That’s 12 months after they accomplished a near impossible mission in the Asian championship, conquering long-time tormentor South Korea in the semifinals Saturday and qualifying to the world championship in front of a weeping, deliriously ecstatic hometown crowd.
But instead of the two months which Gilas Pilipinas coaches and the PBA Board of Governors agreed on for the FIBA Asia tournament, the Nationals will probably have just enough time to pack their bags before leaving on a jet plane for Spain.
And that’s due to the already compressed PBA calendar.
“Dikit-dikit na yung mga conferences up to the end of next season; halos wala ng break,” said a PBA official. “So malamang, they’ll meet again mga one week before the world championship, tapos alis na agad.”
The 2012-13 Governors’ Cup, set back more than eight weeks from its original schedule to accommodate RP team training and the 11-day tournament proper, will commence two days from now followed by a short post-season break and the three-conference 2013-14 season.
Even international tournaments, like the next William Jones Cup where the Philippines was “uninvited” last month by Chinese Taipei organizers at the height of the diplomatic row between the two countries, might not find room in the constricted PBA schedule.
RP coach Chot Reyes said he will meet with PBA officials right after the tournament to address the matter.
“Di malinaw yon e. Wala pang usapan in that regard,” said Reyes moments after Gilas Pilipinas ended decades of agonizing losses to South Korea that triggered a deluge of emotions from grateful long-suffering Filipino basketball fans.
“Kailangan namin ulit mag-usap ni [PBA] Commissioner [Chito Salud] and then see what happens. Nakita ko na yung schedule ng PBA, nakalatag na all the way almost hanggang sagad na sa September [next year].”
Reyes said Gilas Pilipinas’ demands this time won’t be as disrupting.
“Obviously I’d like to ask for more time,” he said. “Hopefully maka-alis kami a week or two in the run-up para bumiyahe kasi laking bagay sa’min yon.”
Given the quality of competition the Philippines will be faced with in the world championship, would a simple appearance suffice for the team?
“No, I want to get a win or two, said Reyes. “You never know. Depende sa draw, depende sa grouping, di mo malalaman.”
There’s actually a gold medal still to be won in the FIBA Asia Championship, with five-time winner Philippines taking on two-time champion Iran at presstime. But that would be icing on the cake.
The return to the world platform was long in coming for the country.
Led by the great Caloy Loyzaga, Lauro Mumar and Carlos Badion, the Phiippines won the bronze medal in the 3rd World Championship in Rio de Janeiro, beating France, 66-60, with Loyzaga getting named to the Mythical Team.
In 1978, Manila hosted the World Championship at the Araneta Coliseum and the Rizal Memorial, with Yugoslavia edging the Soviet Union, 82-81, in overtime for the title. Brazil was third and Italy fourth. The Philippines came in eighth behind the United States (Athletes in Action), Canada (6th) and Australia (7th), and ahead of Czechoslovakia (9th), Puerto Rico (10th), China (11th) and Dominican Republic (12th).
Then in 1985, coached by American Ron Jacobs, the NCC-Philippine team captured its last Asian Championship in Kuala Lumpur. They would have gone on to compete in the World Championship in Spain had the country not been overrun by the 1986 February EDSA Revolution.
Twenty-four teams – host Spain, the United States from the London Olympics, Australia and New Zealand (FIBA Oceania), three teams from FIBA Africa in the Ivory Coast (Aug. 20-31), four from FIBA Americas in Venezuela (Aug. 30-Sept. 11), six from EuroBasket 2013 in Slovenia (Sept. 4-22), four wild cards, and Iran, either South Korea or Chinese-Taipei, and the Philippines from FIBA Asia – will comprise the world championship.
Set Aug. 30 to Sept. 14, 2014 in six different venues around Spain – the 15,500-capacity Palacio de Deportes de la Comunidad de Madrid, Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona (16,500), Bizkaia Arena in Bilbao (15,414), Palacio Municipal de Deportes San Pablo in Seville (10,200), Palacio Municipal de Deportes de Granada (7,500), and Palacio Multiusos de Gran Canaria in Las Palmas (11,500).
Nine countries had expressed interest in hosting the event: Spain, France, Denmark, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Italy, Greece, and China, with the FIBA Central Board, voting in Chicago in May 2009, going for Spain.
The next FIBA World Championship will be in 2019 to break the four-year cycle and set apart the tournament from the FIFA World Cup (soccer).