First of all, we need to be reminded on why the Smart Gilas program was established in the first place. Essentially, the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) was starting to get tired of lending its players to the National Team, and not getting consistent, good results (i.e., medal standing finishes). The Samahang Basketbolista ng Pilipinas or SBP therefore offered an alternative, and it is the Smart Gilas program.
The program aims to form a national team mainly of players outside of the PBA, and keep it for a relatively long time. It will have good funding, good training programs, good exposure in international competitions, and have the best available coaches possible.
The pool of Smart Gilas players ended up composed mostly of the best players from local colleges, and so called Fil-Foreigners (players with mixed foreign and Filipino blood) from schools abroad. Some of these Fil-Foreigners have excellent credentials, coming from US NCAA Division 1 schools.
In terms of execution, I think the program has done very well so far. It has been able to get most of the best college players in the country, and has been able to discover Fil-Foreign talent as well. It has been able to expose these players in various international competitions all over the world. It has the best coaches available to it, and funding (or money) is almost never a problem.
In hindsight, though, it would seem to me that the progam is in fact, a RETROGRESSION for the Philippines. This program reminds me of the USA’s policy before of sending its best college players to compete in major international tournaments. It worked for awhile, but when the world started to catch up to the US in basketball starting around the 1990s, it ended up being a disaster, in that the US National Team was being beaten by other countries, shutting it out of the medal race.
Nowadays, the US’ National Basketball Association (NBA) is allowing its best players to play in major international tournaments, as long as the player is willing to play. And here we are, generally keeping our pros from playing in international competitions, and getting college players instead.
‘Experience, and Survival of the Fittest’
The US College Players failed for a number of reasons, first of which was the fact that they were boys playing against men. You had players in their late teens and early twenties playing against players who were in their mid twenties to early thirties, or players who easily have a five or ten year advantage in terms of experience.
Another, more important factor, is the fact that the colleger players were not the best in the country. They were the best in college, but not in the whole country. They therefore were not sorted out from a selection of the best the country can offer.
Its the same with Smart Gilas: JV Casio and Chris Tiu were the best in college in recent years. However, compare them against the likes of Jimmy Alapag, or James Yap, who are the best in the country, and personally I would say there is a gap between the individual talent of Casio/Tiu and Alapag/Yap.
Casio and Tiu are great players, but it is still a big question if they can approximate Alapag and Yap in the PBA consistently, if they had played in the PBA.
The selection process, is “Survival of the fittest … among college players”, but not the survival of the fittest among the best in the country.
The Philippines basically in a bind right now: Sending the best players in the country is no guarantee of a shot at the medal race, as was the case with PBA All-Star teams in 2007 and 2009.
However, sending anything less, like the Smart Gilas, risks of ending up with much worst.
The availability of an “import”, or naturalized player in the person of Douthit will improve the chances of Gilas. However, Douthit is only one player, and he can be contained, or get into foul trouble. In the end, basketball is pretty much a team sport, needing team effort to win tournaments, not just games.
Team cohesion is important, but so is talent. One cannot hope to win tournaments based on either qualities alone: It has to have both talent, and cohesion.
A long term Gilas program will likely have cohesion, but not talent. A PBA All-Star team will have the talent, but not the cohesion. Ideally, the best program we could produce right now, would be to keep the core of the 2009 National Team for a long time, plus Douthit. And by the “core”, that means including the Coach.
I think the PBA was hoping to wash its hands clean of the National Team by leaving it all to the Smart Gilas program. It saves them from spending a lot of money; From the embarassment of being out of the medal race; And from the inconvenience of losing its best players during PBA games, and possibly losing them from injuries also.
Currently, there are really no other viable alternative progams out there. Personally, I am not optimistic of the team’s chances in the future, even with an import around. However, it is the only worthwhile program out there, outside of the PBA. And therefore deserving of our support.
There has been some talk lately by some PBA personalities about again allowing its players to play in major international tournaments. I hope it is all not just talk, and that action will follow allowing an all-star PBA team, with Douthit, and a long term coach to go through a long-term basketball program.