Monday, April 19, 2010

Smart Gilas in Serbia 2010 & My Thoughts on Serbian Basketball

I think we've had enough of the MVP speech controversy. His resignation is irrevocable and this will surely hurt Ateneo in many ways. But what has to be done, has to be done. Even if MVP himself had no intention to plagiarize, apparently his speech writers screwed up and he had to suffer and take the blame himself. It's just so honorable how he never pointed a finger but rather accepted full responsibility. Let's just learn from our mistakes and move on. Issue closed.

On Smart Gilas Serbian stint:

Despite our 1-5 win loss record in Serbia, I believe we had a very valuable trip. The teams we played there are of a different competitive level as compared to the Asian teams we will be playing. We played 5 1st division teams and 1 2nd division team which will be elevated to 1st division next year. THat's the team we beat. We played the best team in Serbia, Partizan, but without their best 5 or 6 players. We also played the 2nd best team, Hemofarm, with several national team members including 7'4 Marjanovic.

I can see an improvement in the team's competitive level as compared to a year ago when we first went to Serbia. We played Metalac (probably top 5 team in Serbia) both times. In our first trip last year, we lost by 31 pts and this year we lost by 10 pts. Last year, I remember how stunned and shocked we were playing against guys who are like a foot taller than us. Their wingmen, the guys i was guarding, are like 6'6 or 6'7 on the average. This year, even if they probably didn't get shorter, we didn't feel that 'small' and inferior compared to them. I guess we've gotten accustomed to being at a size disadvantage against foreign opponents both in Europe and Asia. And it will always be that way for us Filipino unless Japeth Aguilar and Greg Slaughter start breeding w/ Serbian women soon.


But despite the height disadvantage on the wing position, i think what's more important is that we must be able to match up well when it comes to the big men, meaning positions 4 and 5 (power forward & center) because that's where size really matters. The big men must be able to consistently stop the post players, block/change shots, and grab those rebounds. Unlike in the US & PBA style of play, a size disadvantage in the wing position would most likely lead to the bigger wing player posting up his smaller opponent. But that wasn't the case in Serbia & in most FIBA style games as well. They continued to run their plays so systematically with so much discipline, occasionally utilizing mismatches. THeir execution was just so impressive both offensively and defensively.

When we played Hemofarm in the city of Vsac about 1.5 hours east of Belgrade, I was so impressed with their starting point guard Markovic, who stands at 6'6 . Despite being only 21 years old and so skilled, he was diving all over the court for loose balls and aggressively pressuring our point guards. Remember, this was only an exhibition game and their team was up by 20+ points. Oh FYI, he is a member of the Serbian national team. That's the kind of attitude they have towards the game of basketball!


I tried to chat briefly w/ some Serbian opponents during 'deadball' situations, and what surprised me was that most of them were only about 19 to 24 years old only. They obviously didn't look it but they certainly mature much earlier tactically in basketball than we Filipinos do. I guess it comes with the number of high level games that they play all year round inside and outside of their country. Many of them turn pro as early as 16 or 17 years old. We have some players here in the Philippines who are still playing in the UAAP or NCAA at 24 or 25 years old, the maximum cut off age.


Dusko Vujosevic, head coach of Partizan, is now considered one of the best basketball coaches in Europe. He has led his very young and underpaid Partizan squad to the Final 4 of the Euroleague, defeating Maccabi Tel Aviv in the quarterfinals. I wanted to get a photo w/ him after our tune-up game vs Partizan but he couldn't be found afterwards. Now what makes Serbian coaches so unique and successful??

While doing therapy, I got to chat w/ a Serbian pro-player, who played college ball in the US NCAA then played in Serbia afterwards. He told stories of how his Serbian coach would send them to the mountains in the freezing cold weather to do their fitness training. In the morning, they were required to wake up at the same time and jog up and down the hills. Naps were to be taken at the same time strictly from 2 to 4pm. At that time, no one is allowed out of their room. THen training again afterwards. Their coach will have a duplicate of the room keys and would make random spot checks to see if everybody is in their rooms and if their refrigerator contains forbidden food/drinks. All meals, breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner, were to be taken together at the dining hall. No one starts eating until the team is complete. Now that's team spirit! And this is a professional team, not high school or college! YOu won't see that very often w/ American or other foreign coaches.

Training sessions are very rigid. Because they are less scientific when it comes to physical conditioning, sometimes they forget that your bodies need to rest and recover. They are so tough mentally that they keep pushing you to the max in every practice and drill. Work, work, work! That kind of attitude will surely give you results on the court, but it may also shorten ones basketball career by a few years. While i was listening to all these stories, i could totally relate w/ our very own experience w/ Coach Rajko except maybe for the random room checks. Apparently, almost all Serbian coaches work that way.


We didn't have much free time while in Belgrade because of our training and games schedule everyday. Morning is for practice and weights, at night we have games. We got Good Friday and Easter Sunday off but all commercial centers were closed. Luckily we found a Church to do Stations of the Cross and attend Easter mass as a team :) Even Coach Rajko stayed w/ us throughout the whole trip, only leaving the hotel for his medical check up. Instead, he asked his family to come over and visit him in the hotel. Now that's dedication! I haven't seen him w/ such a big smile upon seeing his 2 year old grandson Djorjo. How we wish Djorjo can always be present during practices and games!

Here are some photos you might want to look at :

Monday, April 5, 2010

My Thoughts on MVP Speech Controversy

Hello again, many people have been asking me for my comments on the MVP speech controversy. Just to clarify, the speech which i previously posted was MVP's address to the Ateneo School of Science & Engineering and School of Management graduates, which was held on the first day of the ceremonies. This was not the speech that had borrowed quotes from JK Rowling & Oprah. Rather, this came directly from his mind and heart.

The speech that had sparked controversy was the second one he delivered the following day to the Ateneo School of Social Sciences and Humanities graduates.

That's right, he prepared two totally different speeches for the two days. First of all, there was no obligation for MVP to accept the invitation to be the guest speaker for this commencement exercise. He had already spoken to an Ateneo graduating class a few years ago. This time, he not only accepted one, but he whole-heartedly accepted both invitations even if he could have politely declined. We all cannot imagine what kind of schedule this man has to deal with every single day, being Chairman & board member of the largest corporations in the country like PLDT, Smart, Philex, MetroPac, First Pac, Maynilad, Meralco, to name a few. In fact, I believe he just flew in that morning from a business trip to Hong Kong in order to deliver his speech in the afternoon. Despite that, he accepted both invitations and opted to prepare two different speeches when he could have just prepared the same one for both days.

The reason for that reflects the deepest sincerity of MVP because he wanted the students from different fields to be able to better relate to his words. Many criticisms have emerged and that is expected because of the stature and integrity of this man. Just like a perfect Tiger woods committing infidelity, but of course this issue is nowhere close to that in magnitude. But to me, i think what's truly essential is to look at the bigger picture - the intention. From accepting and making two separate speeches despite all the circumstances, it is clear that MVP wanted to impart his wisdom to the graduates in order to ENCOURAGE and to INSPIRE them to succeed in life. That alone tells us the kind of man that he is. He could have taken the easy way out and simply declined. It was indeed a mistake to fail to cite and give proper reference to JK Rowling and Oprah but his intention was not for people to praise him as a great speaker by borrowing those lines, but rather he wanted to extract their creative minds by supplementing those words with his personal experiences. If you've read or listened to the speech, i can say about 95% of the content came from his personal stories and own wisdom. The borrowed lines are there to supplement and add a little more flavor.

At the end of the day, a mistake was done and it cannot be taken back. But let's look at the positive side. This is a lesson for MVP and for every one of us. Even the mightiest of the mighty are entitled to make mistakes. It doesn't make them less of a person. Jesus said "He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her." What is valuable is that we are deeply sorry.

In his letter to Fr. Ben Nebres, MVP expresses his sincere apology and his wish to be disconnected from Ateneo. It really takes a lot of courage or "balls" as our Coach always puts it, to own up to your mistakes. MVP is truly a leader we should admire because of his love for the Filipino people, his exceptionally generous heart and his incredible courage!

However, being disconnected from Ateneo... Being an alumnus and former Blue Eagle, I definitely hope not!