Yeng Guiao believes that Gilas Pilipinas has what it takes to go all the way in the men’s basketball event of the 19th Asian Games.
Guiao, the last coach to handle the Filipinos in this quadrennial event, said their balanced lineup of size, speed and skills could be their biggest advantage over other teams.
Handled by American coach Tim Cone, Gilas Pilipinas had already surpassed the fifth-place finish of Guiao’s squad in the Jakarta edition of the Asiad in 2018.
The Filipinos are now in the semifinals, where they will battle host country China for a chance to advance to the gold medal match for the first time since 1990 in Beijing.
“This batch was able to mitigate the size deficiency which we had five years ago,” Guiao told Daily Tribune in a conversation shortly after the Filipinos escaped Iran.
“I remember at that time, just to have size, we brought in Asi Taulava, the oldest player in the PBA (Philippine Basketball Association).
Like Cone, Guiao also didn’t have the luxury of time to come up with a well-prepared team.
With practically half of the team, including head coach Chot Reyes, serving suspension following a brawl with Australia in the FIBA World Cup Asias Qualifiers, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas tasked the PBA to assemble a team that will represent the country in the Asian Games.
Rain or Shine responded to the challenge and deployed half of its team.Then, National Basketball Association player Jordan Clarkson was tapped as reinforcement to boost the rag-tag squad in the continental event.
Still, Guiao rued their lack of ceiling compared to the new batch of Gilas.“Half of the team came from Rain or Shine and we were practically a smaller team. This team has the size, not just up front with (Ange) Kouame, June Mar (Fajardo), Japeth (Aguilar) and Justin Brownlee, but they also have taller wingmen in Calvin Oftana and Arvin Tolentino. So size wasn’t a problem for the team.”
Guiao said the feat of Gilas is a step towards the right direction.
“I’ve been saying all along that we need to focus on getting our team better in the Asian level first before ambitioning on making strides in the world level,” Guiao said.
“We know that other countries in the Asian region like China, Japan, Korea and even Taiwan, are getting better and they have good basketball programs.”
“Not only are they having a good program, but they’re also running good leagues and they’re ahead of us.”
Guiao said they should sustain the momentum created by Cone and his boys.
“We need to strengthen our program for Asian basketball and then, after we’ve done that, then we can proceed to the world level,” he said.
“Let’s work on our backyard first before taking it to the next level.”