The Philippines stands out from its other Asian neighbors due to its devotion to basketball. The PBA is among the most significant contributors to the country’s fascination with the sport. It’s also become the driving force for generations of its outstanding basketball talent.
Many believed that the Philippines would always stand head and shoulders above the rest when it came to basketball. However, the most recent showings of the PBA’s top teams in the East Asia Super League (EASL) smeared the once-gleaming reputation of Filipino hoops.
This OKBET Sports article will dissect what transpired when the league’s top teams faced other Asian ball clubs in the EASL and the possible reasons behind their dismal performance. We’ll also present possible solutions that would help the PBA improve the quality of its play.
The San Miguel Beermen and TNT Tropang Giga were the PBA’s representatives for the EASL Champions Week. It’s a week-long competition where eight of the best pro basketball teams from the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, and Chinese-Taipei squared off in Okinawa, Japan.
They were slated to face off against the best teams from the B-League and the KBL. Some Filipino hoops fans looked forward to this as these leagues poached some of the best young talents from the UAAP and NCAA.
San Miguel first squared off against the Ryukyu Golden Kings, the runners-up of the B-League. They had former UP Fighting Maroon Carl Tamayo as their Asian import, which set up an exciting battle.
The game started on even footing, with San Miguel trading shots with Ryukyu. However, the gap in quality eventually reared its head when the Golden Kings finally pulled away from the Beermen. The Philippine Cup champions lost heavily, 96-68.
The 2022 Philippine Cup champions had a chance to finish the week on a high note when they faced KBL runners-up Anyang KGC, the KBL’s runners-up and current employers of Rhenz Abando. After such a heavy defeat to Tamayo’s Golden Kings, Jorge Gallent will be eager to finish their Japan tour with more fight in them.
However, they were once again stunned. This time, the Beermen lost in a more humiliating fashion. Their final game in Japan ended in a rough 142-87 loss.
Comparing the caliber of competition the two teams faced, TNT had the more difficult gauntlet. They had to square off against defending champions, B-League’s Utsunomiya Brex and KBL’s Seoul SK Knights.
The Utsunomiya game was tough to watch for TNT’s die-hard fans. The team lacked the defensive cohesion to go against the Utsunomiya’s defensive schemes. They were always caught flat-footed, which allowed the B-League champs to finish with an impressive 99-66 final score.
Jojo Lastimosa quickly tore up his game plan after the humiliating 33-point defeat to put on a better show against the Knights. The Tropang Texters performed better this time, keeping up with the defending KBL champions for much of the game.
However, the better-drilled Knights put some distance between the two. Kelly Williams was a defensive liability in both games, but his inactivity on defense cost what otherwise could have been a winnable game.
The second contest ended in an 80-69 loss for TNT.
After such disappointing displays, it’s understandable that the spotlight is hot for the PBA teams. Some hoops fans expressed frustration and doubts at the situation of Philippine basketball after the embarrassing thrashing their teams experienced:
Ganito katindi ang competition sa EASL, yung Bay Area Dragons na minani ibang PBA teams, sa EASL namalahibo sila… SABAY PA SINA ANDREW NICHOLSON AT MYLES POWELL NA NAGLALARO HA.
Tama o mali?
— Snow Badua (@snowbadua) March 9, 2023
I think I overestimated the PBA team.
Their league highlight video is very interesting.
But I changed my mind after watching the EASL game live yesterday.
— 알럽바스켓공 (@baekpd1983) March 1, 2023
Thirdy Ravena, the Filipino player who started the diaspora of PBA talent overseas, had this to say to his and his brother Kiefer’s critics:
and they thought playing here was easy… 😅
— Thirdy (@ThirdyRavenaaa) March 2, 2023
There are voices in the crowd that defended the league’s abysmal performances, though. Former PBA player Bacon Austria had this to say about the entire situation:
PBA teams doesn’t take EASL seriously we all know that…
— Bacon Austria (@baconaustria) March 2, 2023
It doesn’t matter whether the PBA took the EASL Champions Week seriously. They floundered terribly on the international stage as the top teams of the second-oldest professional basketball league in the world.
Finger-pointing is inevitable after such a disappointing performance. However, identifying the key reasons for these deflating defeats would help improve the teams’ performance in domestic and international competitions.
The most casual basketball fans can notice the difference in the coaching quality between the PBA teams and their Korean and Japanese counterparts.
Their opponents quickly overpowered both San Miguel and TNT on offense. The defensive game plans of the Filipino teams were rendered useless as their opponents got to do whatever they wanted. The bigs were especially exposed as their marks freely shot from long range.
The same thing happened when it came to the offensive side. The PBA’s iso-heavy dribble-drive offensive plays were also stopped by their opponents. With the point of attack only coming from certain players, it became easy for their opponents to plug the gaps by the second half.
The EASL allows two American imports on their teams compared to the PBA. To even the playing field, San Miguel and TNT hired imports to play for this tournament alone.
The lack of chemistry between the newly inserted imports and the rest of the teams was evident. While they managed to play well, the lack of enough game time with the second import meant locals watched on the sidelines as their two imports did all the work.
Finding their roles in the new rotation was also tough for the local players. Since they weren’t used to playing with two imports on the floor at the same time, the Filipino players struggled to find ways where they could be effective.
Yet another reason behind the PBA’s failures abroad is the nature of the tournament itself. San Miguel and TNT had to play tight schedules and incorporate practice time with their second import, leaving little rest for their bodies.
The locations also had an impact on their performance. Flying to Japan for basketball is tough when cramming the Champions Week between a busy PBA season.
When San Miguel had to play Utsunomiya, their play was affected by the cold climate. While the teams performed slightly better in Okinawa, it was obvious to everyone watching that they were out of their depth.
It also didn’t help that some of their best players were injured. June Mar Fajardo and Chris Ross were two of the biggest misses for the PBA teams when they competed in Japan.
Ever since the dust settled on the PBA’s embarrassment, there were questions about whether the league should participate in the next tournament.
PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial assured the public that the league will still compete in the next EASL tournament. He revealed that they’re ironing out the details with other member organizations.
However, doing the same thing they’ve been doing locally is fruitless internationally. How can they improve upon their dismal performances?
One of the best measures the PBA can use to improve their quality of play is to allow more imports to play on their teams. More imports will allow local talent to get used to playing multiple foreign players on one team.
It will also help smaller teams remain competitive in a league skewed toward the most popular teams. If one import gets injured, they will still have another one ready to contribute.
Of course, finding the right balance between the locals and imports is a challenging task to fulfill. It’s up to the league to introduce measures to ensure local players can still get playing time despite the presence of these two imports.
Ateneo head coach and former Gilas Pilipinas tactician Tab Baldwin warned of this beforehand, and the EASL proves him correct.
The biggest talking point for Filipino basketball fans is how badly coached the PBA delegation was compared to their East Asian opponents. Part of the reason why this is the case is the lack of innovation in the local game.
The other reason is the influx of foreign coaches introducing different coaching systems. Tim Cone is one of the most successful foreign coaches in the PBA, but it’s been a while since any coach significantly changed the PBA meta.
Baldwin also called out the league’s lack of tactical innovation. Cone took offense on behalf of the PBA coaches, but he was again correct with his prediction.
If they allow more basketball styles to change how the game is played, the quality of the basketball played in the PBA will benefit.
It’s also apparent from San Miguel and TNT’s performances in the EASL that they didn’t know what their opponents would do. The opposing bigs were free to shoot from the three-point arc because their marks were instructed to guard the paint.
Moreover, there is also a slight skill difference. While PBA guards can dribble their way out of trouble, it’s hard for them to create anything unless they have an open lane to drive to. The local big men also struggle to shoot from anywhere beyond the key.
The game has changed significantly, and it’s painfully apparent to the casual fan that the PBA has been left behind. Proper scouting and training regimens must be introduced to make the players more versatile on the floor.
The PBA’s dismal showings in the East Asia Super League should be a wake-up call for Philippine basketball. The league suffered a significant blow to its image, while hoops fans who stopped watching the league would feel vindicated.
It’s up to the league to figure out how to stay competitive if they continue playing in the EASL. Some necessary changes that will improve the team internationally will be unpopular. After all, nobody in the league likes changing the status quo.
However, these growing pains are necessary for the sake of PH basketball. If they don’t try to find ways to improve the product, the league will eventually find itself lagging behind its neighbors.