Photo from: FIBA.COM
By: Bong Paredes
For the first time perhaps in history, The Philippines’ U19 basketball squad is playing the top teams in the world. Having a pair of much-heralded big men like Kai Sotto and AJ Edu certainly aided in creating awareness and excitement in the local basketball community. It’s also a testament that we are on our way to true relevance in the sport by being part of the Basketball World Cup not only in the senior level but in the younger age groups as well.
Last night’s game against Greece for me was very satisfying even if we lost by 16 points against the hosts. There are a lot of positives and here are the top 3 in my opinion.
1. Confidence and Preparedness – The boys did not show any jitters and their body language exuded confidence (in themselves, the coaching staff). When AJ went down with a torn ACL, they were not rattled and proceeded to lead by 10 later in the quarter. At times, they looked like they were more seasoned than their Senior counterparts.
2. Clear philosophy and/or communication in defending the pick and roll – Though our boys were “game” and were aggressive defensively, it won’t nearly be enough when they play teams at this level (and size) that runs pick and roll every other sequence (within one possession). This led to a lot of baskets and And1 opportunities that also got compounded by point number 2 which is…
3. Tenacity on the boards – each team finished with 43 rebounds at the end of the game and it showed that what we lacked in height we make up for in desire. I’ll be paraphrasing here but Charles Barkley once said that rebounding is more of an attitude and hunger thing than it is a skill. Not to say that our boys aren’t skilled because they are.
On the other side of the coin, here are 4 things that the team could do better and should address immediately for their game against Argentina a couple of hours from now.
1. Depth and unselfishness – This isn’t a Kai and AJ only team. Far from it. Edu’s injury and Dalph Panopio’s subpar performance really limited our chance of pulling off an upset. At the same time, “veterans” like Dave Ildefonso, Abadiano, Spencer and Amsali all contributed well. Geo Chiu and Carl Tamayo also held their own even when they both incurred 3 fouls each at the end of the 2nd Like what I mentioned earlier, they looked more cohesive than the senior mens team at times the way their roles were clearly defined specially on offense.
2. Too Many Fouls – we shot ourselves in the foot a lot with this. They played tough, hard-nosed defense for 22-23 seconds and would foul in the end. Other times, it was not clear if they wanted to force baseline or middle and would end up fouling when already badly beat. What’s worse, this lack of clarity was the reason why our bigs had to help when they didn’t need to and it eventually got them in foul trouble early (Kai, Geo and Carl all had 3 fouls at the half). There were also times that Kai showed frustration as he felt he had to help every single time. You will see some of the first 2 points in the highlight of the game from FIBA’s Youtube channel..
3. Passing and ball handling – teams here are bigger than us but just as quick, so we need to take care of the ball. It seems like it wasn’t that big of a deal because we only had 4 more turnovers than the Greeks. What ended up happening though is they disrupted our offense for most of the game so we did not get quality shots. Passing a “catchable” pass instead of a “shootable” one also disrupts the flow of the offense. It spelled the difference between an open shot and a contested shot. Our FG% (32%) and 3P% (22%) were so bad that it would make you think we were lucky we weren’t blown out of the water.
4. Spacing – This is related to point number 3 in that when you are playing teams that are much taller and longer than you, spacing needs to be more pronounce and disciplined. Not making yourself readily available to the pass makes it easier for the other team to disrupt the passing lanes. When this happens, we end up with a lot of drive and dish situations that forces us to take a shot too late in the shot clock which increases the chances of taking a shot that is under a lot of duress.
With all that being said, Coach Sandy Arespacochaga and his staff deserves a ton of credit for getting our boys as ready as they can be and I’m sure they are on top of these things I just mentioned.
Overall, this is an amazing learning experience for this group and for our basketball program but if we can make the necessary steps to make these adjustments possible, we might even win a game or two this time even without AJ Edu.