THERE were so many “what-if” moments in Philippine basketball history.

One of the most notable ones was in the 1978 FIBA World Championship — the precursor to the FIBA World Cup — that the country hosted.

It was the time when professional basketball players were barred from participating in FIBA-sanctioned tournaments, thus preventing the country from sending the cavalry of talented PBA players back in the day.

Without the pros, the all-amateur, Nic Jorge-mentored Filipinos, who were seeded to the eight-team semis outright by virtue of being the host nation, dropped all their eight games.

The last time the country fielded in its cream of the crop was in 1974 in Puerto Rico.

While the team finished 13th, at least it beat Australia and Central African Republic, thanks to a core of young talents headed by Ramon Fernandez and William “Bogs” Adornado, who will later on become two of the country’s greatest players.

The Philippine Basketball Association was borne the next year and the country wasn’t able to field in pro players again from there until FIBA opened it to everyone in the 90s.

Now it begged the question, would the pros made the difference if they had played?

“Definitely, PBA players pupuwede dun,” said Mr. Fernandez, winner of four PBA MVP plums and a record 19 PBA championships. “Sonny (Jaworski) was at his best because he won the MVP that year. Abet (Guidaben), Atoy (Co), Philip (Cezar), Bogs (Adornado) at Crispa at Toyota players.”

“But as far as winning, hard to say and speculate at that time when we didn’t have 6-10 and seven-footers,” he added. 

Mr. Adornado, for his part, said while personally he may not have contributed that year because he just came back from an ACL and MCL injury, he is confident a team of pros could.

Both greats also agreed that the Gilas Pilipinas team now is the strongest the country has ever formed.

“I would say this is the strongest team and we should inspire our team and cheer them up so we can at least put up a decent finish and very good performance because as I’ve said before that being part of the tournament is already a win for us,” said Mr. Fernandez. — Joey Villar