THE Asean Basketball League (ABL) and the continuous transfer of basketball technology are among the major reasons why neighboring countries have managed to close the gap on the Philippines as gleaned from the recently concluded Southeast Asian Games.
Ariel Vanguardia, last season’s Coach of the Year in the ABL with Westports Malaysia Dragons, acknowledged that exposure in the fledgling regional league has given players from Thailand, Indonesia, and even Malaysia the confidence and experience to do well in international tournaments such as the SEA Games.
Gilas cadets managed to retain the men’s basketball gold in the biennial meet, but not after going through the wringer against Thailand in the semifinals, 80-75, and Indonesia in the finals, 72-64.
Both the Thais and Indons have ABL players in their respective lineups.
“Right now yung mga countries like Thailand and Indonesia, limang taon na rin namang naglalaro ang mga 'yan sa ABL. Tapos yung mga local leagues nila, parang PBA na rin, all-year round na naglalaro,” said Vanguardia, who has been coaching the Dragons since 2011.
“So sanay na rin sila on what it takes. Yung gulang sa laro, adjustments during the game, nakaka-cope na rin sila."
Vanguardia added tapping Filipino imports to play in the ABL and the influx of Filipinos accepting coaching jobs in local leagues around the region helped familiarize these teams with the Philippine brand of basketball.
Vanguardia steered the Dragons to their first ABL finals stint last season where they lost to the Hi-Tech Bangkok City team that is also handled by another Filipino in Jing Ruiz.
“The other countries also get Filipino coaches especially in the Indonesian Basketball League (IBL) like sina coach Boycie (Zamar), coach Bong (Ramos). Even si Frankie Lim, nag-coach din sa Indonesia 'yan. Tapos sa Thailand, si coach Jing nga,” said Vanguardia, who is deputy coach of Leo Isaac with Blackwater in the PBA.
Long-term programs on the part of the Thais and Indons also contributed to competitiveness against Gilas, which was only formed and trained by coach Tab Baldwin less than two months prior to the Games.
“Puro kasi sila long-term program. Yung Thailand five years ng ganyan ang team na 'yan. Yung nakalaban natin na Indonesia limang taon na rin 'yan. Yung Malaysia bata 'yan, pero ang preparation niyan 'yung (para sa) 2017 (SEA Games).
“Long-term na sila kung mag-prepare. Yun ang tingin ko kaya dumidikit na rin sila,” said Vanguardia, a former head coach of the Jose Rizal Heavy Bombers in the NCAA.
Although Almond Vosotros and Troy Rosario led the Gilas cadets back from a 10-point halftime deficit against Thailand, Vanguardia still believed veteran Kiefer Ravena remained the big difference in the team’s gold medal campaign.
“I think without Kiefer hindi natin nakuha 'yun. Si Kiefer talaga ang nagdala,” he said of the Ateneo guard, who hit the clutch three-pointer that clinched the national team’s hard-earned win over the Thais.
Despite the near-misses, Vanguardia said there’s no enough reason for the country to start sending PBA players to the SEA Games, saying, “Kung pro natin against pros nila, mahihirapan pa rin.”
The best way, according to Vanguardia, is to have players ripe enough to turn pro to compose the next national team to the SEA Games.
“Kailangan lang talaga tulad nila Kiefer na hinog na. Yung mga aakyat na talaga, like si Troy Rosario na nag-champion na rin,” he said. “Hindi talaga puwede ‘yung puro nga bago lang.”