FOR two members of the 1973 Philippine team that won the Fiba-Asia Men’s Championship, one big difference separates basketball then and now.
And it’s a five-letter word that spells h-e-a-r-t.
Former player Manny Paner and one-time national team trainer Juan Cutillas both said playing for flag and country during their time was the highest accolade an athlete could achieve.
And both swear, too, they did the job with pride and honor without regard for material or financial reward.
“At that time we really played for the country without any financial reward,” said Cutillas, a former national football coach who trained the cage squad coached by the late Valentin `Tito’ Eduque for the Fiba-Asia tournament 40 years ago when it was still known as the Asian Basketball Confederation.
“Back then we really were heroes and adored by the people. Why? Because we play with this,” he added, pointing to his heart.
Paner agreed, saying today's players always play with extreme caution when called up to the national team.
“Tama ang sinabi niya (Cutillas),” said Paner, who was given plaque of appreciation along with members of the `73 team during the Fiba-Asia tournament official drawing of lots on Thursday at the Manila Hotel.
“Kami noon, for the country talaga. Ngayon malaki na ang pagkakaiba. Sa nakikita ko kulang na sa aggressiveness, ayaw na nila (players) masaktan, nag-iingat na sa injury. Paano naglalaro din sila sa PBA.
“Kung gusto mo manalo ng championship alisin mo ang takot mo na masaktan, parte ng basketball ‘yan eh,” added the 1975 PBA Mythical Team member. “Dapat bigay todo ka kung gusto mo makaabot sa championship.”
Cutillas thinks playing for the Philippine team now is a choice a player has to make based on whether it will benefit him or not.
“Now their first priority is themselves, what is best for them. They see what their priorities are, and then they decide if they will join (the national team) or not,” he said.
He also denounced teams which refused to lend players to the national team.
“Some clubs don’t even let their players join. Back then the teams were cooperative,” Cutillas recalled.
While Cutillas and Paner doesn’t underestimate the heart of the national players, they won’t be convinced until they see them play with passion and fire during the Fiba-Asia meet set August 1 to 11 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“It’s true, really true, that no one can ever underestimate the heart of a Filipino champion, but looking (at them) now, where is the heart?” said Cutillas.
“Before nagkakamatayan sa court. Nagkaka-suntukan pa para manalo. Back then, the team was united, solid kami noon. (But now), where is the heart to win?” Paner lamented.