2018 FIBA Asia U18: Batang Gilas secures first World Cup U19 slot in nearly 40 years

Batang Gilas 67 – Bahrain 52 (Batang Gilas advances to the Semifinals)

When talking about ball movement, one of the first things that someone will likely talk about is the three-point shot. A large part of that is because of the influence the Golden State Warriors have had on basketball as a whole. Their reels always highlight the threes that come off their impeccable ball movement. It’s easy then to fall into the trap that ball movement means good looks at the three point line and that eventually means good basketball.

Batang Gilas’ ball movement has been a point of emphasis for most of the FIBA Asia tournament. It hasn’t exactly resulted to pristine three-point percentages, but the eye test shows us work that is both impressive and promising. Versus Bahrain, this promise started to bear fruit actual results, as the Filipinos came out scorching to start the game.

It started with a couple of Dave Ildefonso three-pointers, but what really set the tone were the two three-pointers AJ Edu made to start the game. What made these particularly impressive was how naturally the shots looked. These weren’t forced pull-ups by Edu. Instead, they were a result of how Batang Gilas moved the ball around, always looking for the best shots rather than just good ones. It wasn’t surprising then to see Batang Gilas up 20-11 to end the first quarter.

But then, there’s that trap we were talking about earlier. It’s easy to fall in love with the three-point shot when it’s falling.

During the second quarter, Batang Gilas continued to move the ball around. They were actually getting good looks. But here’s the problem: they weren’t making these shots anymore. They were good, open looks, but the problem is, that doesn’t automatically means you’re playing good basketball. The true equation in mind should be: purposeful ball movement means great looks around the basketball court and that means great basketball.

The difference between the initial equation and the latter one is purpose. It was evident with the way Batang Gilas played in that second quarter, clearly rushing into their shots, and just throwing passes up on the fly. There wasn’t direction with the way Batang Gilas was playing, and it worked against them. Bahrain took advantage, and unloaded a monster 21-0 run to grab a 34-26 lead to end the first half.

It was frustrating to watch, but it was also reality. This Batang Gilas team, as talented as they are, they’re still a young team. Coach Josh Reyes already touched on this issue before they even left for China: “These young kids need to learn to be able to adjust to that without timeouts.” Batang Gilas couldn’t figure it out during the first half. Batang Gilas just had to settle down, listen to their coaches, and climb out of this whole they put themselves in.

Right off the bat, Batang Gllas dumped the ball down low to Kai Sotto to start the second half. Bahrain was forced to foul, leading to two free throws. Coach reyes and the rest of the team on the bench could be seen clapping after the play. Batang Gilas was going to move the ball around, but with purpose. They would take advantage of their size down low, and allow the offense to flow off that.

The result was a rejuvenated Batang Gilas, one that was playing with a lot more gusto as the second half went along. They were getting open looks from three, but that was no longer their focus. What the team truly wanted was great shots. They were passing up threes whenever there would be an open look from down low. Bahrain couldn’t do anything. They didn’t have the size to match whatever Batang Gilas threw at them.

The first half and second half were like night and day. From being down by eight points, Batang Gilas turned things around to win by 15 points. Every Kaiju dunk and Miguel Oczon three-pointer created excitement and hype around the Filipino contingent in the arena. It was the kind of comeback that would be so fun to watch on highlights. But hidden beneath the dunks and the threes was purpose.

It was the kind that made the difference between staying stuck in a hole you put yourself in, and qualifying for the first time to the World Cup, the first time in nearly 40 years.

Photos from FIBA