PBA commissioner Chito Salud believes a long-term program similar to what sportsman-businessman Eduardo 'Danding' Cojuangco put in place in the 1980s, holds the key to the country’s basketball renaissance.
Salud said the Smart Gilas project started in 2009 by Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas and its president Manny Pangilinan has achieved its short-term goals, but he believes it will take a longer and more forward-looking program to get the Philippines to the next level in Asian and world basketball.
Smart Gilas was started by the SBP with the 2008 Olympics as the end goal and the extension of the program dubbed Gilas 2.0 has the 2014 World Championships as target.
But to achieve greater success, Salud said the country may need to go back to Gilas' original thrust of gathering college stars but keeping them together for a much longer time - the same way Cojuangco did with Ron Jacobs' Northern Consolidated team of Hector Calma, Allan Caidic, Samboy Lim, and Yves Dignadice in the eighties.
“Kailangan mahaba talaga (basketball program). Di lang puwedeng three years or five years. Maganda kasi na umabot pa sila (young players) sa edad na 26 para di sila ma-mama sa international competitions,” Salud told a small group of sports scribes prior to the start of the PBA press launch at the Diamond Hotel’s Grand ballroom.
Smart Gilas’ first batch of young players included then La Salle hotshot JVee Casio, Ateneo star Chris Tiu, Far Eastern University playmaker Mark Barroca, UST's Dylan Ababou, and big man Aldrech Ramos, as well as Fil-Am gunners Marcio Lassiter and Chris Lutz.
But after three years of playing together with naturalized player Marcus Douthit, the original Gilas batch was scrapped as the top amateurs joined the PBA.
As in the original Gilas plan, Salud conceded that sustainability will be one problem, with the option of turning pro often too good to resist for the players.
“Marami rin kasing factors iyan. One, maybe nainip na rin ang mga players kaya sumali na sila sa PBA draft. Another is, maaring yung coach din nainip na. Then eventually, kung makikita natin, humingi na din kasi ng tulong ang Gilas sa PBA, so we eventually gave them the players they needed,” Salud said.
Nevertheless, Salud said he isn’t losing hope that the country will soon find the right formula to regain its once lofty basketball status in Asia.
In fact, the amiable PBA commissioner will be meeting with national team head coach Chot Reyes once the PBA season begins so they could discuss the details on how to further strengthen Smart Gilas 2.0.
Salud told Spin.ph on Tuesday that he is willing to go as far as helping Reyes convince some of the players in Reyes' 20-man training pool to reinforce the Gilas second batch as it prepares for the 2013 Fiba Asia Men’s basketball championships set in Beirut, Lebanon.