By Ivan Saldajeno
IT has been 16 years since the Philippines last hosted the SEABA Men's Championship (I was only about to enter high school then), so it was a privilege that I covered the 2017 edition at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.
As anticipated by virtually everybody, Gilas Pilipinas mauled its opponents en route to the title and the lone Southeast Asian ticket to the FIBA Asia Cup and the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers.
But aside from the so-called "overkill", which SBP chairman emeritus Manny Pangilinan and Gilas gunner Matt Wright somehow denied, there are things that I observed after seeing the other national teams. In this Game Analysis piece, I'm gonna jot down some of them.
1. ASEAN basketball may have improved...
Let's start with the kinda obvious. The foreign teams that played in this year's SEABA Championship were far cries from their 2001 selves, when an all-Filipino squad composing of the best players from the defunct national league MBA just simply pummeled them.
Vietnam, Thailand, and Myanmar brought in foreign coaches, with the latter taking Ten Kok Heng, who was part of the 1989 Malaysian national team that denied the Philippines a gold medal in the SEA Games basketball competition.
A very special case was that of Indonesia, which got foreign-bred players in veteran guard Mario Wuysang and wingman Arki Wisnu and even joined the naturalization game after getting the commitment of American forward Jamarr Johnson.
Thailand actually was also set to bring in their own foreign-bred players in Tyler Lamb and Moses Morgan. Unfortunately, both players went back to the United States to attend to daddy duties.
Still, Thailand had Wutipong Dasom, who dropped 40 points in one game, although Coach Tim Lewis expects him to become a team player ahead of the SEA Games.
The effects of the ASEAN Basketball League have been evident in how all the teams improved in their game.
2. ...but it's still a long way to go.
But with only one spot in the next levels at stake, Gilas opted to bring in its A-game, bringing in nine PBA veterans and even CBA star Andray Blatche to Chot Reyes' lineup. Wright, who once played in the ABL, and Jio Jalalon were the only rookies who made the cut.
The result: six blowout wins by Gilas by an average margin of 58.7 points per game with the first win being a 107-point crushing of Myanmar.
Gilas' SEABA domination goes to show that there are still rooms for improvement for the other ASEAN nations basketball-wise.
But for former ABL champion coach Ariel Vanguardia, who currently heads Phoenix in the PBA, if the exploits of the ABL will continue to make Southeast Asian basketball very competitive, it may only take as soon as 10 years before the likes of Indonesia and Thailand, which many believe can give the Philippines a fight for regional gold, can put up a very gallant stand against a full-strength Gilas.
3. The future is here
The SEABA tournament also saw brilliant individual performances. Aside from Dasom's 40-point explosion, there was the impressive game of Myanmar's Aung Wana, who was named the tournament's best scorer.
Either a stint in the ABL or even an appearance in the PBA Governors' Cup (the league gives its teams an option to bring in an Asian import aside from their non-Asian import) can help Wana improve on his game.
Also, there is Singapore's young big man Lavin Raj, who was offered by one Philippine college to play for them.
Time can tell if they will become dominant in the future, but at least their SEABA experience this year was a good start.
In conclusion, the SEABA experience is truly memorable. Up next is what the other countries think is the real fight: the SEA Games. I do hope that a similar feeling will be felt in Kuala Lumpur.
4. Who says Ultras Filipinas are only for football?
One of the interesting sights in the SEABA Championship was Ultras Filipinas, frequent fixtures in Azkals games, cheering for Gilas.
This only shows that even the fans of other sports are willing to support the Philippines' national basketball team.
This also puts up a challenge of sorts to the fans of the other countries that are part of the football-crazy ASEAN region.
It's your turn now, Ultras Malaya.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by writer do not necessarily reflect those of Dugout Philippines.
Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno