Two-time PBA MVP Willie Miller said 'game-changers' like Calvin Abueva and LA Tenorio could have made the difference in Gilas Pilipinas' campaign in the 2016 Fiba Olympic Qualifying Tournament, saying their absence left a huge vacuum in the national team's bench.
Monitoring the Gilas game from Abu Dhabi where he is set to appear in a series of games for Filipno migrants, Miller couldn't help but rue the absence of 'The Beast' from the Gilas lineup after losses to France and New Zealand ended the country's dream of making it to the Rio Olympics.
The PBA great said Abueva, with his boundless energy and scrappy play, could have altered the flow of games against both France and New Zealand, got on the nerves of opponents' star players, or - at the very least - got the crowd into the game with his hustle plays.
“Malaking bagay 'yung Abueva brad. Super effort yun sa both ends ng floor, hustle, pangungulit sa depensa, lahat merun siya,” said Miller. “Sa tantya ko ha, kung andun si Calvin, baka sira ang laro nila Boris Diaw (ng France) at yung magkapatid na (Tai and Corey) Webster ng New Zealand.”
One big Abueva play could've provided the spark at a time when morale was low, and the offense stagnant, during the match against Les Bleus, Miller added.
“Walang bumubuhay sa opensa natin brad, yun ang kayang ibigay ni Calvin. Tignan mo pati yung crowd, mapapansin mo matamlay. Kasi matamlay yung opensa natin,” he said.
“Kung andun si Calvin, may mga extra-curricular 'yun na magpapa-hyper sa crowd gaya ng ginagawa ni Jimmy Alapag na nagwawala at nagsisigaw pag nakaka-shoot. Yun ang importane para buhayin ang dugo ng crowd, homecourt pa naman tayo,” said the many-time national player.
Miller also said a legitimate point guard like Tenorio could've restored order and provided leadership for Gilas during stretches when the offense went haywire.
“Points guard kasi yung mga gwardya natin. Kung may LA Tenorio sana tayo na super utak at beterano, na hindi lang shoot, kundi pagiging leader eh nandun, baka di naging chaotic yung ating opensa,” he said.
“Saka sa international kasi dapat umiikot ang bola para hindi maging predictable ang opensa, pag kasi nag-dribble ka ng nag -ribble, manunuod na lang kakampi mo tapos mababasa agad ng kalaban ang galaw ng offense,” added the 38-year-old combo guard.
“Ang masakit sa atin, pati import natin shooter, nasa labas saka point center.”
Asked who he thought should have been relegated to the reserve list instead of Abueva and Tenorio, Miller replied: “Inalis dapat yung mga hilaw pa at di pa pwede sa diinan.”
“Sa akin, yung (Ray) Parks sana hindi muna sinalang, 'yun ang kay LA sana tapos yung isang spot, pipili ka na lang kila Calvin, Japeth (Aguilar) o Troy (Rosario) sa pwesto,” he said.
“Sa akin, si Troy muna aalisin ko kasi bata pa, pero maganda ang nilaro eh. Dun ngayon papasok yung sayang ang naging pwesto nila Japeth, Ranidel (de Ocampo) at Ping (Marc Pingris). Andun sa lineup pero di mga nagamit.”
Miller can only shake his head when asked about how Aguilar, de Ocampo, Pingris and June Mar Fajardo were not properly utilized in the close games against France and New Zealand.
Still, Miller remained optimistic that the Philippines has already drawn the attention of the world basketball community, preaching patience as Gilas looks sustain its climb up the Fiba rankings.
“Nasa tamang direksyon tayo. 'Yung experience natin sa Fiba Olympic qualifier, sana may natutunan tayo para yung mga naging mali, hindi na natin maulit sa mga susunod na taon,” said the Olongapo City native.
“Sana mas ma-inspire tayo na ipagpatuloy ang mga nasimulan."