Serbia came in the FIBA World Cup 2019 being the pre-emptive favorites. With massive withdrawals of top players hounding Team USA (and to an extent, Canada), Serbia was placed at the top of the power rankings. With their NBA stars intact, specifically, a center who plays like a point guard and makes his teammates better, they have talent and height at every position.
Serbia is a quality team with loads of confidence. When asked about facing Team USA, Coach Sasha Djordjevic replied: “May God help them.” When Serbia demolished the Philippines, his assessment: “Obviously, you’re missing quality.”
It’s a harsh statement, but he did say that it’s “something to think about.” Any hope that we had of becoming world class due to the (relatively) strong showing in the World Cup in 2014 where we kept the games close, was smashed to smithereens. If you finish 32nd in a pool of 32, you can’t really argue much about your quality.
We have now gained respect in the Asian level, but the entire continent is still not at world level. Even China and Iran failed to advance, when they had the height to match up against the Europeans. It’s evident now: height is not enough. It is right for us to celebrate how our younger generation has grown taller, but we still have a lot of ground to cover.
Being Filipinos, we don’t take criticism lightly, and some Gilas fans took offense at Djordjevic’s statements. This is why they celebrated their loss to Argentina, and they also felt vindicated. It was a small man, 5’11 Facundo Campazzo along with 39-year old Luis Scola who led Argentina’s impeccable game to beat the Serbians.
Serbia looked overconfident. The power rankings may have gotten in their heads. They expected their opponents to just roll over in awe of their roster, but the Argentinians are a proud team. They have been identified as a dark horse in the tournament, and no team was more deserving of delivering the Serbs’ comeuppance.
Another vaunted team in the tournament is Greece, showcasing the best player in the world — current NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. That may have gotten in their heads as well. The team didn’t look like they developed much and were ready to rest on the Greek Freak to tow them to the next round.
Giannis was not the best player of the tournament by a long shot, and many of his bully plays of railroading everyone with elbows flailing couldn’t work in FIBA. The lack of outside shooting killed the Greeks, as their opponents just built a wall to prevent Giannis from penetrating.
This is a good illustration of how the international game is different from the NBA. Many NBA players rely on the advantages of being the offensive player (Giannis, James Harden), and the FIBA rules, along with the inconsistency of the travel calls would unravel their weaknesses.
Antetokounmpo has the advantage of getting the benefit of the doubt when it comes to charging calls in the NBA since his quick, long strides would catch the defender off-position. FIBA is not as stringent on requiring the defender to stand still, and Giannis, quite appropriately, ended the elimination game against the Czech Republic fouling out on a charging call.
I may have jumped the gun when I said Adamson and Ateneo were the two-best coached teams in the UAAP. That’s total disrespect to Aldin Ayo of UST. A champion in both the NCAA and UAAP, he was often downplayed for handling talented teams.
He took the challenge to handle the University of Sto, Tomas, and after losing his best player to injury in Season 81, he returned in Season 82 with a revamped roster. While rivals kept recruiting Fil-foreigners, he chose to recruit from the provinces. Mark Nonoy and RhenzAbando are setting the league on fire, and it’s a good reminder that there are still homegrown talents — those that won’t have eligibility issues with FIBA, if we’re looking that far ahead.
Nowadays, college players will be classified as FIBA quality, PBA quality and MPBL quality. Basketball lives on in the Philippines.