Six members of Talk ‘N have been named to the SMART-Gilas Pilipinas national pool, which will be helmed by current Tropang Texters coach Chot Reyes. It should come as no surprise, considering the franchise has made it to the finals of the last four PBA conferences, winning three titles.
With a plurality of players from the defending Philippine Cup champions in the national pool, it is a virtual certainty that Talk ‘N Text would have the most players on the national team that will compete in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, since other PBA teams have at most two players named to the pool.
The current situation draws some striking parallels with another PBA-backed national team: the 1994 squad to the Asian Games in Hiroshima, Japan, which was composed mostly of players from the All-Filipino champions San Miguel Beermen.
The PBA started sending its professional players to international competition in 1990, in time for the Asian Games in Beijing, China. Ginebra playing coach Robert Jaworski was assigned to helm the squad, and the Living Legend hand-picked 12 players from the league. Despite just two weeks of preparation, the team ended up winning the silver medal behind host China.
Realizing the negative effect of the lack of preparation, the PBA decided in 1994 to send the All-Filipino champion to represent the country in the Asian Games. Having the best ballclub in the land as the country’s representative would ensure that chemistry would not be a problem, the logic went. San Miguel, backstopped by superstars Allan Caidic, Ato Agustin, and Samboy Lim and coached by Norman Black, defeated Coney Island led by Alvin Patrimonio and Jerry Codiñera in six games in the All-Filipino finals.
But bad luck fell on the Beermen even before they began preparations to compete in the Asian Games. Injuries to key players, including Lim, Ramon Fernandez, Yves Dignadice, and Art Dela Cruz decimated the San Miguel lineup, which was already aging to begin with. It forced Black and his coaching staff (which included Jong Uichico) to look for more creative options.
The PBA gave Black the option of selecting three players from another PBA team to reinforce the squad, and the coach selected Patrimonio, Codiñera, and rookie Rey Evangelista of Purefoods. Black also had access to a pool of the best amateur players, from which he chose Marlou Aquino and Kenneth Duremdes (three other future PBA stars, Dennis Espino, Jeffrey Cariaso, and EJ Feihl, were cut). Finally, with the team still needing backcourt help, Alaska allowed the national team to suit up second-year guard Johnny Abarrientos, who emerged that year as the best point guard in the PBA. They joined Beermen holdovers Caidic, Agustin, Hector Calma, Franz Pumaren, Alvin Teng, and Dong Polistico.
With only half the team made up of San Miguel players, the objective of having outright chemistry had to be set aside as key players given the most minutes were new to the team. Abarrientos started at point guard, Patrimonio became the top offensive option down low, while Codiñera and Aquino shared starting center duties.
Still, the team fought gallantly in the Asian Games. After losing to South Korea in the preliminary bracket, the team had to go up against powerhouse China in the semifinals, losing by just nine points. The team wound up fourth overall after losing to Japan in the bronze medal game, on Patrimonio’s memorable missed free throw in the dying seconds.
With six players from Talk ‘N Text selected to the SMART-Gilas national pool, Chot Reyes may be trying to make sure that the team would have some semblance of chemistry, since the nucleus would be familiar with his system. Curiously, Black and Uichico are expected to be part of Reyes’ staff, and he should be well-served heeding their advice from past lessons.
Reyes has announced that a cadet team of top amateur players would be formed, and it would be interesting if he would tap a couple of amateur players to shore up weak spots, just like in 1994. Players like Greg Slaughter, Junmar Fajardo, and Ray Parks seem like good candidates.
Slaughter, a legitimate 7-footer, would be a shoo-in if his game continues to improve under Black at Ateneo. Fajardo is slowly being given the international exposure he needs while playing for the San Miguel Beermen in the Asian Basketball League. Either of these players could provide additional ceiling for the national squad, just as Aquino did in 1994.
Parks, meanwhile, is arguably the most athletically-gifted player in the amateur ranks today. It remains to be seen, however, if he could crack the roster when more experienced wingmen are also part of the PBA pool.
Reyes’ goal is to do one better than the 1994 national team. A third place finish in 2013 would earn the right for the Philippines to compete in the FIBA World Cup two years from now. It would be the Philippines’ first appearance in a world-level basketball competition since 1978.
Jay P. Mercado is a highly-regarded PBA amateur historian. He serves as a consultant for the PBA Greatest Games broadcast on Pinoy X-treme.
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