As the Gilas #23for23 Cadets entered the San Juan Arena for their first game in the Filoil tournament, the initial thought was how they were going to dominate. This was practically the equivalent of an all-star team in the collegiate level. No way they were set to lose this tournament right?
Except, that was exactly what they experienced to start the tournament, as the Ateneo Blue Eagles handled business and beat the Gilas Cadets, 75-69. On paper, it’s surprising the Cadets lost. With the amount of talent they had on board, no way they should have lost. But their loss against the defending UAAP champions taught us one of the many reasons why they’re in this tournament in the first place.
It’s a chance to build chemistry
The Ateneo Blue Eagles have been lauded for the longest time for their incredible chemistry as a basketball team. They whip the ball around well as well as any team in the country, creating easy, efficient baskets for each other. That was in full force versus the Gilas Cadets.
The Cadets, however, were anything but. They’ve only been practicing for a few days, and it was evident with how they struggled in their first game. Spacing was poor, while most of the points of the team came off fast breaks or isolations that showcased the individual talents of the players rather than the overall cohesion of the team.
That’s the thing though: this Cadets team doesn’t have any form of cohesion right now, and that’s okay. They’re in the Filoil tournament for many reasons, and one of them is to be able to build chemistry as a team. Not just on the court, but off the court as well.
By building chemistry, an identity is created in the process
Identity and culture are things often talked about when discussing how to craft a good basketball team, and it’s no different with national teams. The Koreans have built an identity predicated on shooting and precise ball movement for the longest time now. The Australians and Kiwis are known for being disciplined with their offense and blending that with hard-nosed basketball in the paint.
The Pinoys are best known for their speed and quickness, but that doesn’t always have to be the case. As of late, the different National Teams (Gilas Pilipinas, Batang Gilas etc.) have been experiencing a sort of identity crisis, stuck between being a team with size and sticking to their roots as one that prioritizes speed and quickness.
A big part of that is personnel, as the National Teams have been getting players that are bigger and more athletic compared to before. Think about it: back then, having guards who were six feet tall was already a luxury. Today, Ricci Rivero, someone who’s roughly 6’1” played point guard for the Cadets in their game versus Ateneo. More than the game changing as a whole, the kind of players have also changed for Philippine Basketball.
Kobe Paras, standing at 6’6″ was playing the two and the three for most of the game, while 6’5” Arvin Tolentino and Kenneth Tuffin switched around the three and the four. This team is long AND athletic across all positions, and that was evident with how they ganged up on Ateneo’s penetrations on certain possessions. Just watch how it looks like SJ Belangel is about to convert off the penetration, only to be met by Kobe Paras:
Right now, that’s the identity of this Cadets team: an athletic, lengthy group with wing depth for days. But that can change over time, as the team figures out the tendencies of each other as they play more games together. The mentality shouldn’t be to aim for any particular identity. Figure out how the team meshes together, establish chemistry, and the identity will eventually come for the team.
This is the start of a long, grueling process to 2023
If you made this Gilas Cadets team right now play in international competitions, they would get embarrassed.
That’s right now though, 2018, with this group of players nowhere close to playing in any major FIBA competitions in the future. This team still has five years to gel, and having that luxury of time is a blessing in itself.
It won’t be an easy road, however, even though this group of players has time its kuyas never had to gel as a group. This is a group filled with young, unproven talent. They will have to be developed as individuals, which means meshing these players as a group won’t be an easy task. Kobe Paras doesn’t have a consistent jumper yet. Maybe in a few years time, he develops a consistent jumper as RR Pogoy.
Those little kinks, the possibilities of these players gaining new skills in the future is a double edged sword. It can hurt, because it can make meshing these guys a lot tougher for coaches. But at it can be beneficial, for obvious reasons. New skills are added weapons, layers that can make life difficult for opposing squads.
By 2023, this group of Cadets may end up as not only the tallest team the Philippines will be sending to a FIBA competition. They may also wind up as the best, fulfilling the potential that was projected of them in 2018.
But to get to that dream of being the best, this team will have to start with the ugly. It showed versus Ateneo in their debut in the Filoil tourney, and more of it will likely show as more games pass. It’s all part of the process. Sooner or later, with an established chemistry and an identity built off the bond of the players, this Gilas Cadets team will showcase its full potential, and the road to that starts now.