RAIN or Shine coach Yeng Guiao can’t help but compare the effort being done by businessman Manny V. Pangilinan in uplifting Philippine basketball, to the successful program laid down by former basketball godfather Eduardo 'Danding’ Cojuangco during the eighties.
“Yung ginagawa ni Mr. MVP sa national team natin ngayon sa basketball was very similar to the program of Ambassador Danding Cojuango noong araw,” Guiao noted.
“Tingin niya 'yang formula na yan ang kind of program that leads to success in basketball,” Guiao added, while lauding the work done by Pangilinan as head of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) in helping the country make it back to the world basketball championship following its runner-up finish in the Fiba-Asia Men’s Championship last year.
Cojuangco’s basketball blueprint made its mark through the famed Northern Consolidated Corp. program which formed, funded and trained a pool of young players such as Hector Calma, Allan Caidic, Samboy Lim, Franz Pumaren, Jerry Codinera, Tonichi Yturri, among others, and reinforced by naturalized cagers Chip Engelland, Dennis Still, and Jeff Moore.
Coached by the enigmatic Ron Jacobs, the team went on to reap success in the international front, winning the 1981 Asian Youth title and the memorable 1985 Jones Cup title at the expense of a heavily-favored US squad, along with the 1985 Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) Championship (now Fiba-Asia) when it defeated mighty China.
Gilas Pilipinas under Pangilinan has yet to approximate the success of the NCC program, but slowly and surely, it is getting there.
With the national team set to compete in the Fiba-World Cup next month, Pangilinan decided to bring in a band of NBA stars led by Blake Griffin, NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Damian Lillard to play the Filipinos in a two-day exhibition game at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The move was a fitting follow-up to a similar effort made by Pangilinan in 2011 when NBA superstars Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, among others played the Gilas Pilipinas team in an exhibition match as it prepares for the Fiba-Asia Men’s Championship in Wuhan, China.
Pangilinan told mediamen the July 22-23 event is his birthday gift to the basketball-crazy Filipinos as he turns 68, while at the same time helping the national team's preparation for the Fiba-World Cup.
“Nobody can doubt `yung puso na tumulong at pagka-sports ni MVP. He always tries to bring the best, not just bring out the best. He tries to put everything in any project he is involved in,” said Guiao, himself a former national coach.
“Gusto ni MVP laging the best, laging magaling ang mga Pinoy. Gusto niya lagi gumawa ng bagay na magmamarka sa isip nating mga Pilipino,” added the congressman from the first district of Pampanga.
“And that is his way, that is his style, and that is MVP’s personality. He makes his mark not only in sports but in anything that he touches.”
At the same time, Guiao believes bringing in a team composed of top NBA players is definitely a good way for Gilas Pilipinas to gauge its readiness for the world basketball championship.
“Makakatulong ng malaki yun (NBA-Gilas game), just to have the opportunity to play alongside those players, and be able to test their mettle and them testing us, condifent booster yun,” said Guiao.
“It will be a learning process for our players and at the same time, it will be a great entertainment for everybody.”
Pangilinan’s support to Gilas does not end in the Fiba-World Cup as he’ll also bankroll the team’s campaign in the Incheon Asian Games and is actually planning to bid anew for the country’s hosting of the 2019 Fiba-World Cup - a tournament last held in the Philippines in 1978.
Pumaren, the former Air21 coach and a longtime national player, likens Pangilinan’s dedication to put Philippine basketball back on the world map to that of Cojuangco's during the NCC days.
“There was a time na parang nawala `yung respeto sa atin ng Asian basketball neighbors natin. But with the successful program of MVP, we earned their respect again,” he said.
Pumaren stressed bringing balance and direction to the various basketball associations in the country led the way to a clearer path to success.
“The first thing that MVP did was to unite the associations eh. Kasi bago siya nag-take over sa SBP, masyadong magulo ang basketball associations, masyadong maraming pulitika,” said Pumaren, credited for the basketball dynasty he built at La Salle in the UAAP.
"With this one, nagkaroon ng right direction yung program. Kung magpapatuloy itong ginagawa ni MVP, we will be in the right direction,” added Pumaren, who also at the same time, praised the PBA teams and owners for fully supporting the SBP program.