The 2018 FIBA Asia U16 tournament was an eventful one for the Batang Gilas program. More than the National Team locking up a slot in the FIBA Asia U17 World Cup in Argentina, Philippine Basketball as a whole picked up a couple of other things from the tournament. Here are some of them:
Unleash the Kaiju responsibly
When discussing Kai Sotto’s monster game versus China during the Semifinal, it’s important to go beyond the boxscore and his impressive 26-21-6 line. During the last two minutes of the game, Kai looked more sluggish than usual. His strides when he ran the fast break weren’t as fluid as they were in previous instances, while he wasn’t swiveling his head as quickly as he did.
Kai Sotto is a Kaiju, a monster who’s out to destroy anyone who blocks his way. But something we often forget with these athletes we brand as superhuman — mind you, it’s reasonable we give them such big titles — is how they’re also human. They may be super, but there’s also some vulnerability to them. In those final two minutes, Sotto was exposed as someone human, who can get tired after all.
Many will scream “Edi magpakundisyon siya!” Albeit true, we also have to acknowledge how overworked Sotto was during the entire tournament. He may have played just the third most minutes for Batang Gilas (25.3), but he also received the most hits from the biggest players. In grabbing the most rebounds (13.5) and blocking the most shots (2.5) for the entire tournament, he also worked his legs the most in the process. It’s no surprise then that he was gassed by the end of that game against China.
It’s awesome for Philippine Basketball to have an premier talent like Sotto. He’s arguably the best player in the U16 Asian level right now (apologies to Sun Haoqin, Chikara Tanaka and Tamuri Wigness). If it weren’t for him, Batang Gilas would find itself in shambles. But unleashing the Kaiju entails responsibility. He may be super, but he’s also human. He’s vulnerable, especially to lower body injuries considering his sheer size. Overworking him may lead to results in the present, but possible failure in the future.
Raven Cortez, underrated big man gem
While everyone else was talking about Kai Sotto, there was this incredibly, nerdy part of Philippine Basketball Twitter who was talking about 6’7” Raven Cortez, the smallest of the trio of trees of Batang Gilas. He’s the Nonoy Baclao to the Rabeh Al-Hussaini of Kai, a role player who plays so well you can mistake him to be a franchise-altering piece. In the future, Raven could very well become the latter.
What impressed fans the most when talking about Cortez was his defense. During the UAAP season, he ranked second in blocks just behind Sotto. In the FIBA Asia tourney, he wasn’t able to record as much blocks, but he was a natural deterrent with his activity around the court. He had the length and foot speed to defend even the quickest of guards, while he stayed aggressive with his rim protection. It wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, but it was a joy to watch nonetheless.
On the offensive end, Cortez is as raw as salmon sashimi in terms of skill, but not in terms of IQ. He’s already a born cutter, someone who sees little holes on the offensive end and pounces on it when giving the chance. Watch how is movement makes this such an easy pass for Sotto to make from the high post:
Cortez is the peak high motor athlete, a lanky, raw, player who uses hustle, heart and smarts to make up for his (current) lack of skill. Sotto’s awesome, dream shake and all. But Cortez could potentially reach that same level of excellence as his fellow intern of the Sampayan Brigade. This just means more quality big men for Philippine Basketball.
Australia and New Zealand should be welcomed, not rejected
Batang Gilas’ two worst losses in the tournament came from Australia and New Zealand, two programs who were playing in the FIBA Asia tournament for the very first time. Others acknowledged how much better these two teams really were compared to Batang Gilas, while others could not help but be frustrated at the struggles of the National Team. Most of the complaints were centered around Batang Gilas being “soft”. Others noted that having Australia and New Zealand in the tournament was unfair. Not just for Batang Gilas, but also the rest of the Asian field.
If the Filipino fan really dreams of a National Team that can contend with the very best of the world, not just in the Asian level, then such an approach towards this situation has to stop.
It sucks to lose, especially in a way where it feels like everything is hopeless. Australia and New Zealand made Batang Gilas and the rest of the field feel that, by overwhelming them with a never before seen blend of size, athleticism, physicality and basketball IQ, in the Asian level.
The wings of Australia attacked passing lanes with so much gusto, while the hulking big men of New Zealand pushed those in the post to the hilt. What this showed is how these two teams are on a level above what Asian basketball was in. So naturally, in order to match this level, what should a person, or in this case, a program do?
Others will simply complain and push that the Australians and Kiwis shouldn’t be in the tournament. But it shouldn’t matter, especially for a country as basketball-crazy as we are.
Being basketball-crazy means accepting anything that will aide in the growth of Philippine Basketball. The mere presence of those from the Oceania should already be enough reason for Pinoy ballers to grow even more. They, just like Batang Gilas, will be forced to situations they aren’t comfortable with. Trying to get past the girth and natural strength of these players is already a challenge in itself.
It’s hard, but it’s an opportunity to grow. A chance to push our limits to heights it’s never been pushed before, thanks to the discomfort we experienced before. We need that struggle, so we can blossom in the future.
The tournament was possibly a turning point for Philippine Basketball
For the longest time, the Batang Gilas program has relied on their speed and quickness from the guard and wing positions to beat Asian teams, with a big starting point on how good Pinoy guards are when it comes to penetrating the rim.
That wasn’t the case this tournament, as Forthsky Padrigao and Terrence Fortea aren’t in the mold of that kind of a guard. In lieu of the guards were bigs who came together and showcased glimpses of elite passing with each other, something far from the garbage man-collector role most Batang Gilas bigs had before for their teams.
There’s nothing wrong with all of this. It simply means that there is change that’s starting to happen with the way Filipinos play basketball. With new types of players, come new play styles that aren’t particularly comfortable to Filipinos yet.
These developments could potentially turn into a turning point for Philippine Basketball. Rather than relying on the guards so much, we can potentially find that balance, especially since our young bigs are starting to develop in such a way.
Adapt or die. The times will eventually force even the best of them to go out of their comfort zone in order to learn new things. That’s exactly what’s happening now, and it could potentially shape how Philippine Basketball is played for years to come.
Photos from FIBA