Closing the SEA Games gap: What can everyone else do?

Southeast Asia brought all that they had to go up against the Gilas Pilipinas Men’s Team of the Philippines at SEA Games 2019. Or maybe at least most of what they had.

It didn’t matter.

Vietnam paraded a hoard of Việt Kiều (overseas Vietnamese) players for the very first time in SEA Games basketball. That didn’t matter as the Philippines brushed by them 110-69.

Indonesia signed up legendary international coach Raijko Toroman to lead the charge against his former team. They were well-prepared after a lengthy training camp in Serbia… and it still didn’t matter. The Philippines still won by double digits, 97-70.

Thailand has had their hearts broken time and again by the Philippines in past two SEA Games. Fired up with vengeance they came into Manila with a highly regarded head coach in Chris Daleo. They also got a stellar performance from their super duper star Tyler Lamb… all of that didn’t matter as well as the Philippines beat them for the gold medal, 115-81.

It was everything that the fans expected heading into the tournament. Now that the Philippines wasn’t sending in a team of highly talented amateur players, no one was expected to be able to keep up with a group of some of the best players in the PBA. Especially on their home court.

If you didn’t get to witness the domination in person, the numbers in each of their games pretty much summarized how it went:

Head-to-head StatsPhilippinesOpponents
Points Scored per game113.669.0
Offensive rebound rate39.4%17.3%
Rebounds per game55.431.8
Assists per game34.213.8
Assist/Turnover Ratio3.41.0
Turnovers per game10.214.0

Even if the numbers from the 136-67 win over Myanmar were taken out of the equation, the stats would still remain lopsided in Gilas’ favor.

In the wake of such crushing defeats by an average of nearly 50 points and none less than 27, what can the contending Southeast Asian nations extract from these losses?

How does Indonesia figure out how to stop the bleeding after allowing Gilas to shoot 64.1% from the field?

How does Vietnam figure out a way to stop the Kraken who was unleashed for 23 points and 12 rebounds on 9-14 shooting?

How does Thailand stop Kiefer Ravena from ripping their hearts out by making shots in the final minutes, clutch or not?

How can Thailand figure out a way to stop the Gilas shooters from getting any three-point shot they want?

What lessons can be learned from SEA Games 2019 that these other Southeast Asian countries can use to eventually close in the gap between them and the Philippines?

While each respective team obviously has to go back to look at these game tapes to do their homework, the biggest lesson to be taken might not be there in those games in particular.

The “gap” between the Philippines and the other Southeast Asian nations is a result of decades of the sport being ingrained into the Philippines, up to a point where – as cliché as it may sound – it has become a religion. Because of that high regard for the sport, the Philippines has always tried to reach for the highest achievement it can muster.

That meant creating a culture where the they kept winning, and failing, and learning, slowly trying to improve the process to reach a higher level in the sport. It is the result of a string of events that are difficult to replicate, save for possibly a once-in-a-lifetime generation to come by.

So instead of looking at the Men’s Basketball Team, maybe all of the determined Southeast Asian teams could turn their heads over to look at what the Philippines Women’s Basketball Team has done.

There isn’t as big of a gap between teams in women’s basketball as there is in men’s basketball. Still, Gilas Pilipinas Women must have been pretty frustrated throughout the years to have never won gold in the SEA Games.

So when Coach Pat Aquino took over to coach the team nearly half a decade ago, one of the biggest goals was to get this elusive SEA Games gold medal.

Everyone had to buy in to the process.

The Women’s Team experienced heartbreak after heartbreak in two consecutive SEA Games in 2015 and 2017. Even with all that, they never broke down and kept on working their way towards their goal. As reported by Camille B. Naredo of ABS-CBN New, Aquino had said after the disappointing 4th place finish in 2017:

“Probably, that’s the end of the jinx for women’s basketball. Not here, but two years from now.”

They were able to maintain a program that kept on improving because they had a plan and they believed in it.

Gilas Women came into SEA Games 2019 with a core that had stuck together through international tourneys against the best of the best in Asia since early in the year. They went out heading into 2020 with a bang, scoring a historic gold by sweeping the competition.

It didn’t come easy. It’s took years to get to the top of that podium. But all it took to get things started was getting everyone committed to the process.

The good news is the other Southeast Asian teams are already starting off on the right foot in that regard.

Indonesia seems locked in with coach Rajko Toroman’s system, already shedding away some veteran players from previous successful squads to usher in a new era. They are somewhat forced to build a sturdy foundation, with their participation in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 as co-hosts on the line.

After claiming their own historic SEA Games medal by winning Bronze in the 5×5 tournament, Vietnam is also on the rise in the right direction. The success of the local Vietnam Basketball Association (VBA) has boosted the interest of the sport in the country. Aside from luring in foreign-based Vietnamese ballers that played in this year’s SEA Games, it has also inspired the next wave of players that could be making some noise soon as well.

And of course, there’s Thailand.

The rivalry between the top two clubs in the country (Hitech Basketball Club and Mono Vampire Basketball Club) have really pushed the level of competition to another level, raising the bar for everyone involved. The local players are playing a higher level of basketball which all translates to an improved core for their National Team.

If the end game is to close the gap between themselves and the Philippines, these teams are already starting off in the right path. They just have to stay the course.

It will be a long journey that will take years – many, many, years – before it might even get close. It will take patience and understanding from everyone involved. But hey, look at what patience and dedication got for the Gilas Pilipinas Women’s Team.