As the SEABA championship is officially underway today, Gilas Pilipinas is believed by many to be the overwhelming favorites in the tournament. And for many reasons! Not only do we have home court advantage throughout, as well as a winning pedigree in this competition, the Philippines is also sending arguably its best lineup in SEABA history.
Our friend and Thai colleague Sajjatam Kulsomboon even went so far as to compare the Philippines’ decision to field the best of the best from the PBA to the ’92 Dream Team. That might be a tad bit excessive (and TK will be the first to tell you that he’s just playing), but you get where he’s coming from.
In the 2016 SEABA Cup, Thailand was right there, almost upsetting the Gilas Cadets 66-65 in the elimination round, before suffering a 97-80 loss to the Philippines in the Finals. Thailand had several national players on that roster, while the Philippines’ best player was Troy Rosario, back then a rookie in the PBA.
Right after the tournament, I distinctly remember Gilas Team Manager Butch Antonio stating that the level of competition in the region is starting to catch up to the Philippines slowly but surely, and that perhaps the practice of sending in amateurs might not be a solution anymore. Couple that with the revised FIBA calendar wherein winning the tournament is essential to advancing to the FIBA home and away qualifiers, and it’s clear to see why the likes of June Mar Fajardo, Calvin Abueva and Terrence Romeo will be representing the country in this tournament.
Sounds good, right? We need to win this tournament, but other countries are getting better. Therefore, we have to send our best players to make sure that we finish on top. Sounds logical to me.
But as is our nature as a Filipino race, we have found something to nitpick and complain about. And it comes in the form of one word: OVERKILL.
“It’s overkill that we have to send these guys to beat the other countries.”
If you read comments on social media, or go deep into mentions on Twitter timelines, this belief inevitably crops up. And to be perfectly honest, I just don’t understand the logic behind it.
People will look to the previous SEABA tournaments, and wonder why we don’t just continue the practice of having amateurs compete in our stead. But that’s just a completely different situation, in a time that doesn’t exist anymore.
Remember, there is only one slot available for the FIBA Asia Cup from Southeast Asia. A loss here would be disastrous for our hopes, after months and months of buildup and preparation. When asked about people whispering that the Gilas lineup is overkill, Head Coach Chot Reyes made it simple: There’s no room for error.
“It’s a competition, anything can happen,” Reyes shared. “The only thing we can do in competition is to be as prepared as possible, and bring the best team forward. And the team that i have now is the best team possible given all the limitation and situations for this kind of tournament.”
It’s my belief that many people still think that the Philippines is the undisputed king of Southeast Asian basketball. Our track shows exactly that. But other countries in the area are quickly becoming hungry to displace the Philippines. Just take a look at the relentless up and down basketball of Thailand, or the fundamentally sound mechanics of the Singaporeans. They mean business. They, along with Indonesia are becoming more and more competitive with each passing year.
“I don’t understand the term overkill,” Reyes admitted. “Pag hindi naman natin pinadala ang pinakamalakas na team natin at maaksidente tayo, batikos na walang katakot takot ang aabutin natin.”
Our neighbors in Southeast Asia know what’s at stake. That’s why they’re sending the best of the best to compete from May 12-18. In my opinion, the respectful thing to do is to make sure that our country is well represented by the top talent that is available, especially while the tournament is on homefloor. I think that other countries would welcome testing themselves against the best stars of the country. If anything, it will provide a measure or gauge for where each country stands in relation to basketball.
“I think the term ‘overkill’ comes from people who don’t understand the stakes and what we’re trying to do here,” Reyes said.
So I really hope that the term overkill dies. There’s really no solid reasoning behind it. It’s very dangerous to go out expecting that any Philippine team will win by a huge margin. That’s not the way to compete. With only one shot at advancing, Gillas Pilipinas has to make sure it counts, and the country is doing it’s best to make sure that our one shot is the best.