Roller-coaster ride for PH basketball

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Sports Yearender

By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter

PHILIPPINE basketball saw its share of ups and downs in the Year 2019, carrying with them lessons that should serve to steer the sport into the coming years.

This was the take of Karlo Lovenia, editor-in-chief at local basketball site Humblebola, when asked for his thoughts on basketball in the year that just passed.

The Gilas Pilipinas program, the Philippine Basketball Association, collegiate hoops and the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League all provided moments to ponder over, making 2019 a year all its own, the local basketball observer said.

“Basketball this year (2019) in the country was very polarizing. There were plenty of highs, but the downs the country experienced were quite severe. At the very least, we were all able to come out in one piece. But either way, it was a roller-coaster ride with plenty of lessons which we can bring for the upcoming decade,” said Mr. Lovenia in an interview.

He described the year that was for Gilas as a “reset year,” highlighting the rough campaign it had in the FIBA World Cup in China where it finished the tournament sans a victory.

But Mr. Lovenia was not completely down on the program, saying that it is a “working” thrust that needs recalibration moving forward so as to get the desired result.

“This year for Gilas was a reset year. The World Cup campaign was unacceptable and a huge disappointment. But all isn’t lost for the program as evidenced by how united the team played during the SEA Games,” said Mr. Lovenia, alluding to the 30th Southeast Asia Games in December where the PBA-bannered national team dominated its way to the gold medal.

“The national team needs to take things step by step while also respecting the necessity of due process,” he added.

Gilas embarks on its FIBA Asia Cup 2021 campaign in February in Group A action against Thailand. Others in the grouping are Indonesia and Korea.

Over at the PBA, Mr. Lovenia said not much really changed although the arrival of quality reinforcements in import-laden tournaments was a welcome development.

“There weren’t much changes in the PBA from [2019] compared to [2018], which should be a cause for alarm in my honest opinion. The league needs to be growing not only with the quality of its competition, but also with what it offers the fans. The basketball world is growing rapidly and the league needs to catch up,” he said.

“At the very least, the quality of imports has been increasing with the likes of Terrence Jones (TNT), Chris McCullough (San Miguel), and KJ McDaniels (TNT) suiting up. Those are some big names which hopefully help in the development of our local players,” Mr. Lovenia added.

The San Miguel Beermen ruled the first two conferences in 2019, winning the All-Filipino Cup over the Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok before taking the Commissioners’ Cup over the TNT KaTropa.

Unfortunately for San Miguel its Grand Slam bid was thwarted anew after it got eliminated by the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings in the quarterfinals of the ongoing Governors’ Cup.

The Kings are set to battle the Meralco Bolts in the best-of-seven Governors’ Cup finals beginning on Jan. 7.

Collegiate hoops also had a banner year, as seen from the country’s biggest leagues, something that bodes well for the country’s basketball scene, said Mr. Lovenia.

In the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), the Ateneo Blue Eagles completed a perfect season, going 16-0 en route to completing a three-peat, while in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) the Letran Knights fashioned out an upset by dethroning undefeated San Beda Red Lions in the finals.

“Banner year seems just about right [to describe college hoops in 2019]. College basketball has grown a lot this decade as it has evolved in terms of its reach and target market. The actual basketball has been getting so much better too as evidenced by how well the Ateneo Blue Eagles, the UST Growling Tigers, and the Letran Knights all played during their respective Finals series. The future of the country in basketball is in good hands,” Mr. Lovenia said.

And it was not only confined to men’s basketball as women’s collegiate hoops also had it eventful.

The National University Lady Bulldogs, coached by Patrick Aquino, continued to make history in the UAAP after winning a sixth straight title and going undefeated anew.

Mr. Aquino then led the Philippine women’s national basketball team to a historic gold medal run in the SEA Games.

Three-on-three basketball also gained a lot of headway in 2019 with the country winning two gold medals from the discipline in the SEA Games and earning a slot in the Olympic qualifiers happening later this year.

The fledgling Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) continued to grow in 2019 but was hit by game-fixing controversy that it moved to address quickly.

Charged for engaging in illegal activities were majority of the SOCCSKSARGEN team as well as some team officials.

The respondents are facing 17 counts of betting and multiple counts of game-fixing and points shaving under Presidential Decree No. 483.

The MPBL said the acts, masterminded by a certain “Mr. Sung,” were committed from July to October 2019.

MPBL founder and owner Manny Pacquiao could not help but express his disappointment over the issue even as he said such activities have no place in the MPBL and basketball as a whole.

“The MPBL has been growing quite well, as more and more players are using this as a stepping stone to the PBA. The game-fixing allegations are a shame but these are challenges any paid league in this country will really need to go through it seems. Time will only tell how the MPBL progresses from these allegations,” Mr. Lovenia said of the nationwide league which now counts some 30 teams in its roster.

Looking ahead, Mr. Lovenia said Philippine basketball has to grow, especially since it is considered as the most popular sport in the land.

“Basketball should grow this upcoming year. The country has gone a long way in terms of the sport. To fail to grow would be an insult to our capabilities,” he said.