STEFAN Stojacic shared the country's disappointment over the winless outing of Gilas Pilipinas 3x3 in the Fiba 3x3 Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Graz, Austria.
After all, the Serbian gunner, who is ranked No. 13 in the world and is a part of world no. 2-ranked pro team Liman, once lent a hand in the country's preparations for the qualifying tournament for the Tokyo Olympics.
"It is hard to talk about an assessment of the team when you have a bad result," he said when reached by Spin.ph. "I don't want to point fingers at anyone, but it's obvious that team was not prepared for 3x3 game."
Stojacic worked with the Philippine team in early 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic cut his stay short as the OQT was moved from April 2020 to May this year.
In his assessment, the fundamental understanding of the 3x3 discipline -or the lack of it- was what doomed the Philippine team in the OQT.
"I totally understand that 3x3 basketball is a new discipline and that there is not so many experienced players and coaches in this new sport. But usually people who are coming from 5-on-5 have a misunderstanding of the game," said Stojacic, who is also playing professional basketball in Serbia with KK Vojvodina Novi Sad on top of his 3x3 stints.
"I was a professional 5-on-5 player and I am still playing in between 3x3 seasons, and I can tell you just from the experience that those disciplines have a huge difference in all aspects of the game."
Although on paper, the Gilas 3x3 team looked impressive with veteran internationalists Joshua Munzon, Alvin Pasaol, and Santi Santillan, as well as top PBA studs CJ Perez and Mo Tautuaa, it still lacked the technical knowledge of how the 3x3 game is played on an elite level.
"Sadly, the Philippine team just didn't adapt to that game. They believed that the individual quality of players will be enough," he said. "It is obvious that the Philippine team was not ready for the tournament."
"There were some good moments during the games and the players showed quality, but they made so much common mistakes made by 5-on-5 players that it's totally obvious that they didn't adapt to 3x3. That is, in my opinion, the biggest problem of the team."
It's a heartbreaking observation on the part of Stojacic, but a reality check the Filipinos can build on if we really want to succeed at this level once again in the future.
Although Munzon, Pasaol, and Santillan were already exposed to this competition in their stints in the Fiba 3x3 World Tour for the past two years, it is not enough.
Even in local 3x3 leagues, the traditional back-to-basket, herky-jerky, hero-ball plays are still prevalent, moves that won't fly in the fast-paced style of the 3x3 game, especially at the elite level.
Stojacic said this brutal OQT stint is proof that 3x3 basketball is a different beast on its own.
"I can tell you that if the Philippines want to improve, you need to feel the passion for this sport and to respect this sport on the same level as 5-on-5, and to accept that things are changing and that 3x3 basketball is rising," he said.
Stojacic cited as examples Latvia, Mongolia, and Poland as countries which have truly thrived in the 3x3 game despite not being considered as powerhouses in the 5-on-5 discipline.
The Philippines should do that - or risk falling further behind.
"So it's either you will start to build on your experience as soon as possible on international level or you are just going to stay a lot behind countries that are already involved into this game for long time."