TIME may be hard to come by when it comes to forming the national team, yet former Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes believes that there's really a few lessons the Philippines can pick up from the past world champions.
Specifically, the outspoken mentor pointed out to Argentina's success in the early 2000s as he sees that it's a program which the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) can shape the future of the national team to.
"Remember when the golden generation of Argentina made that run in the 2004 Olympics? They won the gold medal in the Olympics and I was there in Buenos Aires in January of that year," he told Coaches Unfiltered.
"I was there precisely because I wanted to take a look kung ano bang ginagawa nitong Argentina na ito? What’s their secret? Because previous to that, they already made a deep run in the World Championship. So sabi ko, baka there’s something going on here sa Argentina. Silipin ko nga."
Argentina, bannered by Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Andres Nocioni, and Fabricio Oberto, won the gold medal in the 2001 Fiba AmeriCup in Nuequen and went on to take home the silver medal in the 2002 Fiba World Championship in Indianapolis, losing only to Yugoslavia in the Finals.
The Argentines sustained that run to the 2004 Athens Olympics, stunning the United States team led by Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, and a young Lebron James in the semifinals before besting Italy in the gold medal game.
That success piqued the interest of Reyes, who was then handling Coca Cola in the PBA.
"I wanted to take a look on what was happening," he said.
Much to his surprise, there really was no secret formula. "I didn’t find anything special. They had no special technology, no special training, nothing."
Except for one: the players' familiarity with each other.
"It's the fact that they’ve been together since they were kids," said Reyes. "So for them, even if they play in different tournaments, the NBA and in all that, you just bring them together for two weeks. Madali na sa kanila kasi mula bata pa, magkakasama na sila eh. They were all in the 16-under, they were all in 18-under, 20-under. The Ginobilis, the Scolas, the golden generation, lahat yun magkakasama na sila. So that was the big difference."
It's this natural progression from the youth team to the seniors side which allowed nations like Argentina to experience fruitful years in their continent and later on, in the world stage.
This observation has since been replicated by other countries, albeit in a different approach.
Take United States, for example.
"Even if you look in the NBA, even when the NBA was preparing for the World Championships, they have their camps in Las Vegas where they get together," said Reyes.
"They have 24 or 28 players pa, and they do that for a month and a half to two months. So they already did their camps, they got together for one week or two weeks, and then disperse back to their teams, and then they got together again like two weeks before the actual tournament for their final practices. They have all of those little pockets where they’re able to get together so they are given time to train together."
"Nakita ng US yun at the time. In 2004, they barely medaled, bronze lang yun when they had Lebron, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, all those guys, and they placed third only? And they figured out that they need to keep a system going, so they stuck with one coach all throughout which is si coach Mike Krzyzewski and they gave them more time to train and play together."
Differing as these approaches were, Reyes pointed out that it all boils down to one thing: allowing the players to have better chemistry with their peers.
Fortunately, it seems like the SBP is heading in the right direction.
SBP program director Tab Baldwin has already formed a young and dynamic Gilas pool which is geared towards forming the best possible national team for the 2023 Fiba World Cup.
Part of that pool are special Gilas draftees Isaac Go, Rey Suerte, Allyn Bulanadi, and twins Matt and Mike Nieto, as well as the Japan-bound Thirdy Ravena.
It might be too early to say, but Reyes is happy with what he's seeing.
"I like what the SBP is doing now that they’re going with the younger kids, and making sure that we’re preparing them for 2023. We are giving them two to three years' time together, and I think that’s a really good program. I think that’s the right approach. Of course, it remains to be seen how they’re going to execute and implement, but I think it’s the right program," he said.
"We just need to get more creative and give the players and the coach a little bit more time."