FIBA BASKETBALL WORLD CUP 2023
Another storied edition of the FIBA Basketball World Cup (FBWC) is over, and certainly, the 2023 edition of the quadrennial basketball tournament has left the winners euphoric, and sent the rest back to the drawing board.
For one, host Philippines, represented by Gilas, is still reeling from the debacle it suffered right on its own turf after failing to clinch a win in the regular group phase elimination of the tournament’s 19th edition, co-hosted by Japan and Indonesia. Had they won at least once in the preliminaries, the Filipinos would have assured themselves of an automatic berth to the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, France—something which co-host Japan achieved after pulling off a 98-88 victory over Finland.
WORLD CUP HYPE
There was so much hype about the FBWC 2023 iteration of Gilas. Its handlers, notably the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), were not without any idea on the time frame under which they would work on preparing the team.
As early as August last year, the SBP announced that the Philippines was awarded with the hosting of the FBWC 2023, along with Japan and Indonesia. The federation also said it was shifting to a higher gear, adding that it had received total commitment from basketball stakeholders in the country.
The Manila showpiece was held from August 25 to September 10, 2023. In an SBP board meeting led by Chairman Senator Sonny Angara, President Al Panlilio presented the plans for the staging of the event to the different board members from the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and other major basketball organizations.
“Showcasing the Philippines, this will be the biggest basketball event to be hosted in the country. Since 1978, we have not hosted a tournament of this magnitude,” said Panlilio. Preparation began and the local organizing committee, composed of industry stalwarts and experts, was formed to run the show. A total of 40 games were held in the qualifiers at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum and SM Mall of Asia Arena, and 12 games for the final phase at the Philippine Arena.
Everything was done in earnest: launching of the official ball, official clock, in August last year. The FBWC 2023 Draw was done in April 2023.
Apart from the hosting plans, the SBP president also shared the unified Philippine basketball commitment to put together the best team for the FBWC 2023.
Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes presented to the SBP board his so-called roadmap in building the men’s basketball team, identifying the best players from the PBA, UAAP, NCAA, and different international professional leagues with the aim of performing in the World Cup Asian Qualifiers, reclaiming the gold in the Southeast Asian Games, and competing against the world’s best in the FBWC 2023. A 21-man pool for the FIBA World Cup was formed.
INSUFFICIENT TEAM PREPARATION
Announcement after announcement since August 2022, the preparation of the team itself was forgotten in the interest of other things. The vaunted overall preparation was mistaken for team preparation itself.
There’s no doubt, preparation is a must, especially for a team whose players are, by practice in the Philippines, taken from their mother teams in the PBA or in different collegiate leagues. Had the 15 to 20 cagers played together as a team since last year by seeing action in different tournaments here and abroad, we would have seen a fighting Gilas team in the last FIBA. Instead, what the fans saw was a team playing distressingly like a ragtag team assembled in the 11th hour.
Oddsmakers’ opinion that Gilas did not have adequate preparations was clearly proven during the group stage eliminations, with the team failing to show some grit and spunk.
Basketball, for generations, not just decades, has been the nation’s most popular sport, in fact a national pastime. The truth, however, is that, on the basis of height and reach, we have already long been overtaken, outjumped, and regrettably outclassed by other Asian nations on the hardcourt
That being the case, the country’s basketball stakeholders ought to draw a no-nonsense program, in which the national team will have to be formed way ahead of the targeted tournament, sent to as many tournaments overseas as possible to gain exposure and experience of playing together.
Other teams did the same strategy as Gilas did, but our team cannot be compared to that of, say France, Spain, and Serbia, since their players are blue-chip ones who could play smoothly and with sound harmony even on a short preparation.
Our players need long preparation in order to be competitive.
All is not lost, however, for Gilas’ Olympic dream. Thanks to a victory they pulled off during the classification round, the Filipinos still have a shot at the Paris Olympics. Behind the yeoman job of Jordan Clarkson, the Philippines defeated long-time regional arch-rival China to advance to the Olympic qualifier. The win somehow soothed the bruised ego of Gilas, which lost all their games in the group phase against Dominican Republic (81-87), Angola (70-80), and Italy (83-90). With the Asian Games coming right after the FBWC, the Filipino cagers, still licking the wounds they sustained in the tournament, knew they had to make a turnaround.
AN INDELIBLE MARK
Still, the last edition of the World Cup–hosted for the first time by Indonesia, and the second time by the Philippines (1978) and Japan (2006)–left an indelible mark, thanks to an excellent hosting, which Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go described as a “milestone” for Philippine basketball and a testament to the Filipinos’ love for the sport.
“The 2023 FIBA World Cup is more than a basketball tournament. It’s a celebration of Filipino resilience, unity, and love for the game,” said Go who frequently watched the games.
“The world is watching with us, and we have shown that we can host a global event of this magnitude,” said the chairman of the Senate Committee on Sports. The visiting players were thrilled and at the same time amazed by the massive support of fans in most of the games. The tournament set a record for the most-attended World Cup game in history, with 38,115 spectators watching the Dominican Republic vs. Philippines game at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue. The number broke the 32,616 mark set during the 1994 final at the SkyDome in Toronto.
Still, the final buzzer to the FIBA World Cup 2023 rang with a much deeper meaning for Filipino fans, who admittedly witnessed the best players from all over the world and immersed in world-class hardcourt action in Manila. Latvia, Georgia, Cape Verde, and South Sudan all made their first World Cup appearances, with Latvia placing in the Top 5. Japan qualified for the Olympics by virtue of being the best-performing Asian team, while the Philippines qualified for the 2024 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Even well-established teams failed in their bid in the tournament, hence there’s nothing for Gilas to be ashamed of. After all, the Filipinos put up a decent fight every game, except that they could not seem to execute their killer instinct, no thanks to lack of preparation.
Defending champion Spain, for instance, lost to Latvia and Canada in the second round and finished only in 19th place. The Spaniards missed the quarterfinals for the first time since 1994. Olympic champions United States (US) also failed to win a medal for the second consecutive tournament. The Filipinos’ love for basketball spilled over on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, the three top apps used by fans during the games. One of the main attractions was definitely the US team, notwithstanding the fact that it did not send a star-studded one like it did in previous editions.
However, the Americans were the prohibitive pretournament favorites to run away with the Naismith Trophy.
In a twist of fate, the US team steered by NBA coaches Steve Kerr, who is the champion tactician of the Golden State Warriors, and his Filipino-American assistant Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat, lost their touch in the playoffs after completing a 3-0 sweep of the elimination. USA lost to Germany, 111-113, while Serbia defeated Canada, 95-86, in the cross-over semifinals. Having seemingly lost their heart to play, the Americans’ skid went unabated as they fell anew in ambush to the Canadians in the battle for third place, 127-118.
Germany, meanwhile, turned back Serbia, 83-77, to clinch its first World Cup title. The win completed an 8-0 sweep by the Germans from the elimination up to the final.
Thirty-two teams qualified in the World Cup, including five from Africa (Angola, Cape Verde, Egypt, Ivory Coast, and South Sudan); seven from the Americas (Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, United States, and Venezuela); eight from Asia and Oceania (Australia,
China, Iran, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon, New Zealand, and the Philippines); and 12 from Europe (Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, and Spain).
The preliminaries were held simultaneously in Japan, Indonesia, and the Philippines, while playoffs were all conducted in the Philippines, being the main host.
The main opening ceremony took place in the Philippines on August 25 at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, in between the first two games of Group A (Angola vs. Italy; and Dominican Republic vs. Philippines).
Another ceremony took place in one of the two co-hosts. It was held on the same day at a later time at the Indonesia Arena in Jakarta, before the Group H game between Canada and France.
Both ceremonies and another at the Okinawa Arena in Japan featured performances highlighting the cultures of the host countries. The ceremony in Okinawa took place before the start of the Group E game between Germany and co-hosts Japan. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida conducted the ceremonial ball toss.
Fans trooped to the Philippine Arena to watch the opening ceremony. They also flocked to watch the succeeding games at the Araneta Coliseum and Mall of Asia Arena to root for their favorite players and teams.
Gilas Pilipinas may have failed to come up with an impressive showing in the 2023 FIBA World Cup, but still improved their world ranking from 40th to 38th. The Philippines placed 24th overall, punctuated by a 21-point hammering of China to end a nine-game losing skid in the tournament dating back to 2019.